New Delhi, Bengaluru: The BJP high command has instructed Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa to carry out his cabinet expansion after panchayat polls in the state, which are scheduled to end on 30 December, party leaders have told ThePrint.
There are seven vacancies in the state cabinet, which the chief minister wants to fill up primarily with Congress and JD(S) rebels who helped bring down the previous Congress-JD(S) government in 2019.
Yediyurappa is keen to induct rebels Munirathna Naidu, who won the high-profile R.R. Nagar bypoll on 10 November; veteran H. Vishwanath, M.T.B. Nagaraj and MLC C.R. Shankar while BJP veterans Umesh Katti, Arvind Limbavali, Murugesh Nirani are eying the remaining three berths.
Yediyurappa had promised the rebels ministerial posts and began looking to fulfill that commitment soon after the BJP won both the bypolls in Karnataka, results of which were declared on 10 November. He visited New Delhi on 18 November when he met with party president J.P. Nadda.
Sources in the BJP said Nadda told the chief minister to involve newly-appointed Karnataka party in-charge Arun Singh and state unit president Nalin Kumar Kateel before finalising the names.
Singh was in Karnataka over the weekend, his first visit to the state since taking over from Muralidhar Rao, and attended the state BJP executive meetings at Belgaum and Bengaluru.
He also held a luncheon meeting with Chief Minister Yediyurappa on 5 December to discuss the cabinet expansion, development and organisational issues.
According to sources, Singh told Yediyurappa to involve the state unit in decision-making before finalising names for the cabinet.
Singh, however, insisted that it is the chief minister’s prerogative on his choices for expanding the cabinet.
“Since panchayat elections have started, the model code is in place,” Singh told ThePrint. “Maybe he can expand his cabinet after the polls, although it is the chief minister’s prerogative on how he wants to appoint his ministers.”
The chief minister has been waiting to expand his cabinet since January this year. He has made at least four announcements regarding the expansion but so far there has been no movement on this front.
It is no secret that Yediyurappa and the party high command aren’t on the best of terms. Just last month, the party backed K. Narayan, an RSS loyalist, for the lone Rajya Sabha seat in Karnataka while ignoring the names put forward by the chief minister.
Rumblings against the chief minister
State BJP sources told ThePrint that many party members complained to Singh about the chief minister and his son, B.Y. Vijayendra, allegedly taking decisions unilaterally.
“Decisions as to who is to be appointed to corporations and boards were taken almost unilaterally. When was the last time a BJP legislature party meeting was held?” a BJP leader from North Karnataka asked.
Last month, Yediyurappa announced the setting up of the Maratha Development Authority to benefit Marathas living in the districts bordering Maharashtra. A Rs 50-crore fund was also allocated to be utilised for the financial, social, educational and development of the community. Pro-Kannada groups had protested the decision .
“This was just another gimmick as there is talk that Vijayendra, Yediyurappa’s son, may be given the ticket for the Basavakalyan assembly seat (that has a substantial Maratha population),” a Karnataka minister told ThePrint.
“Then came the decision to set up the Veerashaiva Lingayat Development Corporation with a grant of Rs 500 crore. That was to appease the Lingayat community and a way to silence the rest,” the minister added.
The chief minister also had to put on hold his decision to include the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community in the central OBC list after a call from Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the last week of November. Sources in the BJP had then told ThePrint that Shah told the CM it would be best if he discussed such issues with the central leadership before making any such announcements.
CM has the upper hand, for now
Despite the rumblings, central BJP leaders admit that Yediyurappa still has the upper hand.
“After all, he is the chief minister and he has to take the call,” a senior central BJP leader said. “It, however, should not be a one-sided expansion. Although these are minor things, every cabinet expansion should take into account the aspirations of party workers. Every chief minister will try to accommodate his own loyalists but it is the party’s duty to see whether those appointed have contributed to the party and have utility.”
A second central BJP leader admitted that there is no leader to match Yediyurappa’s stature in Karnataka.
“Yediyurappa is continuously performing, despite his age,” the leader said. “He has a huge base in the Lingayat community and moreover we have no replacement as of now. So it will be wise for the party to not continuously think about his future but to think about the future of the state unit after him.”
A third senior BJP leader said replacing the chief minister now would be a threat to the government. “Karnataka is not Haryana where the high command can instal a Manohar Lal Khattar. There (Congress leaders) Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivkumar are powerful leaders who can turn the tide anytime,” the leader said.
“No other leader other than the chief minister has the capability to run a government with such fractured strength. We have only one government in the south. A transition also won’t be possible without keeping Yediyurappa in good humour. The high command is in no mood to take such a risk.”