Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai Monday visited localities affected by incessant rains in Bengaluru, accompanied by a host of officers and MLAs from the city. There are seven ministers from Bengaluru in Bommai’s government, but the CM decided to personally visit the rain-hit areas because he holds the Bengaluru Development portfolio, making him the de facto minister in-charge of the state capital.
Ever since he took charge of the state in July, Bommai has been careful to keep the Bengaluru Development portfolio with him, even choosing to not appoint full-time ministers in-charge to any of the districts. Ministers were given charge of districts only to oversee Covid containment and relief measures.
This is because Bommai is battling infighting among his ministerial colleagues over who will be made in charge of Bengaluru, just like his predecessor B.S. Yediyurappa did.
Such is the battle for Bengaluru that ministers are publicly calling each other names, while BJP legislators from the city are approaching the party’s central leadership over the matter. Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that legislators approached the National General Secretary (Organisation) B.L. Santhosh over the weekend to raise concerns over the power tussle.
While two senior ministers in the Bommai cabinet — V. Somanna and R. Ashoka — have made the battle for Bengaluru quite public, others like Dr C.N. Ashwath Narayan are quietly lobbying for the post.
Revenue Minister R. Ashoka was given the charge of supervising Covid containment in Bengaluru urban, much to the disappointment of others in the cabinet. But with a decline in Covid cases, the clamour for the Bengaluru portfolio has grown louder.
Somanna, the minister for housing, who had earlier held the Bengaluru portfolio during the first Yediyurappa government, lashed out at Ashoka on 10 October. “Ashoka behaves like a dictator, as if he were Samrat Ashoka. I always go to meetings he convenes but he never attends the meetings that I call. He thinks they are beneath his stature,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ashoka, a former deputy chief minister, insisted that he would follow Bommai’s instructions.
Another minister who aspires to be Bengaluru in-charge — S.T. Somashekhar — last week expressed his helplessness over being an “outsider” and hence losing out on the portfolio. “I have come from outside. It is not like I will get the Bengaluru portfolio. Let Ashoka be given the charge since he has been a loyalist,” Somashekhar, who joined the BJP from the Congress in 2019, told the media.
Big money, political gains
This isn’t the first time that battle for Bengaluru among cabinet colleagues has hit the headlines. Yediyurappa too had kept the portfolio with him till his last day in office. Under Siddaramaiah’s Congress government, two senior ministers — Ramalinga Reddy and K.J. George — also fought over the Bengaluru development portfolio.
“Interest is where the money goes. The largest chunk of money from the budget is spent on Bengaluru’s infrastructure projects. This is where political funding primarily comes from,” A. Narayana, political analyst and faculty member at the School of Public Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University, told ThePrint.
Financial aspects aside, he added, there are political reasons for the demand around Bengaluru portfolio. “You have to be seen doing something in Bengaluru to capture the imagination of the middle class, build an image for yourself. There really was no demand for Bengaluru in-charge before S.M. Krishna’s chief ministership. It was only post the IT boom and jump in infrastructure and investment projects that it became a prestige portfolio,” he added.
There is big money in Bengaluru. The outlay from the state budget for Bengaluru in the year 2021-2022 was Rs 7,795 crore. In 2020-21, it was Rs 8,772 crore. This excludes the Union government’s allocation for partial funding for projects like Metro rail, sub-urban railway, etc.
Take, for example, BBMP (Bengaluru’s municipal corporation) budgets — the budget outlay for 2021-22 was Rs 9,287.81 crore, while for the previous two financial years, it was Rs 10,895.84 crore and Rs 10,687 crore respectively.
BBMP elections likely this year
The fight for Bengaluru in-charge portfolio takes prominence given the fact that the BBMP has been without an elected council for more than a year now, and that these elections are likely to be held by the end of this year.
“For a city like Bengaluru, there are emergency decisions that need to be taken. Whether it is road repairs, rain damages or infrastructure projects, there is a need for constant monitoring,” Uday Garudachar, BJP MLA from Chickpet, told ThePrint.
“It is great that the chief minister has the portfolio. Since he is also the finance minister, needs of the city are fulfilled quickly ,but it would be brilliant if a dedicated minister was given charge,” Garudachar added.
“I wish that the portfolio remains with the chief minister for a longer time,” said Satish Reddy, BJP MLA from Bommanahalli constituency, adding that Bommai is quick to respond.
Reddy is among the group of BJP legislators from the city who would prefer that Bommai continues to hold the portfolio than hand it over to Ashoka, who was seen as a frontrunner.
A source from the BJP told ThePrint that a majority of legislators from the city are disgruntled with Ashoka and have raised complaints with the party’s central leadership. “He constantly interferes in the matters of BDA and doesn’t allow us to function independently,” S.R. Vishwanath, BJP MLA and Chairman of Bengaluru Development Authority, had complained about Ashoka earlier in October.
Former Bengaluru in-charge and Congress legislator Ramalinga Reddy said the city needs a dedicated minister. “One-sixth of the state’s population lives in Bengaluru. Thousands of crores are spent on the city every year but in the absence of a minister there is no mechanism to monitor where this money goes,” Reddy said.
A. Narayana added: “Since the chief minister’s decision of not giving Bengaluru portfolio to anyone is also creating trouble, the central leadership of the BJP is likely to decide on who should be made in chare and put the question to rest once for all soon.”
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)