Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa finds himself in an embarrassing position as he looks to expand his state cabinet.
The chief minister has been denied appointments, to meet BJP president and Home Minister Amit Shah and discuss his cabinet expansion plans, not once but six times. Sources told ThePrint that Shah has refused to meet Yediyurappa on three occasions in the last month alone.
The latest came Monday morning when Yediyurappa claimed to the media that he was invited to meet Shah in Delhi. By evening, however, the chief minister said he could not make the trip as he had to participate in an event in Raichur.
“I wanted to visit Delhi but I was unable to do so due to Shah’s busy schedule. I had to attend an event in Raichur,” Yediyurappa told the media. “The cabinet expansion will take place as promised and I request our MLAs to ignore rumours.”
The Karnataka cabinet currently has 18 ministers, leaving it with 16 vacancies.
The chief minister is under pressure to accommodate at least 11 rebel MLAs, who had helped bring down the Congress-JD(S) government in the state, in the remaining vacancies.
But his plans have been hampered by the attitude of the BJP high command.
A source in the state government told ThePrint that the chief minister had made several efforts to seek an appointment with Amit Shah but was turned down each time, with reasons varying from the home minister campaigning for Delhi elections to his unavailability.
One of the reasons for the BJP high command denying Yediyurappa an appointment, the sources claimed, is because the party’s top leaders are miffed with the chief minister for not consulting them on how to run his government.
“After several attempts to meet both Modiji and Shahji, he (Yediyurappa) was finally able to meet Modiji in Tumakuru. There too, when he used the public platform to seek funds for the state that was affected by floods, the high command was not pleased,” said a highly placed government source.
Shah is scheduled to visit Karnataka on 18 January, giving Yediyurappa another chance to seek clearance for his plans.
A rocky relationship
Since he took over as chief minister in July, not once has Yediyurappa been able to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah — a reflection of the rocky ties he shares with the BJP high command.
Even when the Congress-JD(S) coalition government collapsed on 22 July, Yediyurappa was made to wait for four days before he got the green signal from the central leadership to stake claim to form his government.
He then ran the state government as a “one-man cabinet” for 22 days. He was finally given the clearance to expand his cabinet on 20 August.
“For almost three months, it seemed like they deliberately wanted to keep the administration on standstill,” said a Yediyurappa sympathiser, who did not wish to be named.
Bengaluru-based political scientist Sandeep Shastri said Yediyurappa has always had a shaky relationship with the party’s central leadership right from the time he tried to form the government after the 2018 assembly elections.
Unlike other BJP-ruled states where the chief ministers are fully aligned with the Centre, Yediyurappa has always challenged the high command, Shastri explained.
“This must be a way of the Centre to communicate to Yediyurappa that they will not accede to all his demands. The Centre is well aware of what he is going to ask of them including making all the turncoat MLAs ministers,” Shastri said. “They may be using this as a pressure tactic to prevent him from putting additional pressure on them to accept his demands.”
A chief minister under pressure
The chief minister is not helped by the fact that he is under growing pressure from the turncoats to accommodate them in his cabinet.
As many as 17 MLAs had defected from the Congress and JD(S) in July following which the BJP fielded 15 of them in the 5 December bypolls. Eleven of the rebels won their respective seats giving Yediyurappa the much needed boost to save his government that had been surviving on a wafer-thin majority.
With the turncoats having kept their end of the bargain, the chief minister, who had promised them ministerial berths, is now under pressure to fulfil his.
“The pressure is way too much and there has been a promise that has been made to make the newly-elected 11 MLAs ministers,” said the government source quoted above. “While Yediyurappaji is ready to discuss, the high command is yet to find time to accommodate him.”
A.H. Vishwanath, one of the rebel MLAs but one who lost the bypolls, told ThePrint that they (rebels) have no other option but to “wait and see what happens”.
“It is up to Yediyurappa to convince Amit Shah and the party high command to accommodate all the 17 leaders who left their respective parties to come and join the BJP. It is our sacrifice that helped the BJP come to power and he knows it,” Vishwanath said.
B.C. Patil, another rebel MLA who retained his Hirekerur seat, echoed the sentiments. “We are hoping something good comes out of all this and we are willing to wait,” he said.