Bengaluru: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Monday appointed three deputy chief ministers in Karnataka, including Laxman Savadi, one of the three ministers caught watching porn in the assembly in 2012.
Savadi (59), a Lingayat, will be accompanied in the role by Dalit leader Govind Karjol (68) and Vokkaliga Dr Ashwath Narayan (50), with the three appointments meant to strike a “social balance” in the state cabinet and add a touch of younger blood. It is also meant as a bid to clip Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s wings.
To have three deputy chief ministers is a first in Karnataka.
While Yediyurappa was opposed to having even one deputy, the BJP brass prevailed on him, party sources said. Yediyurappa (76) knew well that he would have to follow BJP president Amit Shah’s instructions if he wants to remain in power.
The BJP central leadership is said to have wanted fresh elections in Karnataka after the collapse of the shaky Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress administration last month, and was less than impressed when Yediyurappa rushed in to form the government. As reported by ThePrint earlier, this is why Yediyurappa was forced to run his government alone for three weeks before the BJP leadership lent him an ear to shortlist the cabinet picks.
The three contenders, the sources said, were named by the BJP high command on the recommendation of Yediyurappa’s bête-noire B.L. Santhosh, the recently-appointed national general secretary of the party.
Associates close to Yediyurappa said the CM was opposed to having a deputy chief minister’s post as he feared it would lead to multiple power centres and thus cause friction in the cabinet.
“He is upset with a few leaders within the central leadership who have been trying to create hurdles by taking such calls,” said a leader from the Yediyurappa camp who requested anonymity.
Political analyst Sandeep Shastri said the appointment of deputy chief ministers reflected the turf war between Santhosh and Yediyurappa.
“While these candidates have been made deputy chief ministers as a reward for a successful Operation Kamala, these choices will open the floodgates of infighting within the party,” he added. “This is an old turf war that is beginning to assert itself.
“Yediyurappa had been arguing that he did not want a deputy CM at all, but being forced by the central leadership to have three shows that they are making the call,” he added.
“I have been maintaining that the BJP central leadership always wanted fresh elections in the state, but it is Yediyurappa who arm-twisted them to form this government… Now they are letting him face the music.”
Political analyst A. Narayana of the Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University said while Karjol represented the friendly side of the BJP, Ashwath Narayan was the suave one, and Savadi the grassroots connect.
According to him, the three are the BJP brass’ picks to form the second rung of state leaders in light of Yediyurappa’s age.
“They are preparing for the next elections, where they can project a team that is lean, loyal and smart,” he added. “They want to not just have social balance but also showcase talent balance in this cabinet.”
The three men who will help Yediyurappa govern
Laxman Savadi: Three-term MLA Savadi is one of the three BJP members who was forced to resign as minister after he was caught on camera watching a porn clip on the floor of the House.
He lost the 2018 assembly election to Congress candidate Mahesh Kumatihalli, now one of the rebel JD(S)-Congress MLAs, from the Athani constituency of north Karnataka.
Sources in the state BJP say the central leadership is very impressed with three aspects of Savadi — his organisational skills, influence in the district of Belagavi as well as neighbouring Sangli, Latur and Ratnagiri areas of Maharashtra, and his efforts during the recent edition of Operation Kamala, engineered to bring down the Congress-JD(S) coalition.
Savadi is said to wield deep influence over several co-operative societies, and is a popular leader among the sugar and farmer lobbies in both Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Dr Ashwath Narayan: Another three-term legislator, the Malleswaram MLA is a doctor by profession. Narayan has won many hearts in the BJP brass with his likeable demeanour and loyalty to the party.
In complete contrast to Savadi, Narayan is known to be non-controversial and “plain hardworking”.
According to sources, he was also a part of Operation Kamala, with his role involving camping in Mumbai with the rebel Congress and JD(S) legislators to ensure they stuck together and did not give in to the pressure mounted by their parties.
“The party is grooming Ashwath Narayan as the next-rung leadership for the Centre and this is one step towards that. He also has good clout over the Old Mysuru region of Karnataka, which is largely a JD(S) stronghold,” said a BJP functionary. “He can help the BJP make huge inroads there.”
The choice of Savadi and Narayan is also meant to infuse “young blood” in the system, sources said.
Govind Karjol: Also a three-term MLA, from Mudhol constituency of north Karnataka, he is one of the most senior leaders in the party. The Karnataka BJP vice-president also served as deputy leader of the opposition in the Karnataka assembly from 25 May 2018 to 26 July 2019.
Known to be affable, he also courts a squeaky clean image. He belongs to the “Left” sect among the Scheduled Castes — the more backward and less politically powerful bloc among Dalits — in Karnataka, the section that helped the BJP gain seats in the state’s north and helped it form its first ever government in southern India, in 2013.
Before Karjol, only two other Dalit leaders have been sworn in second to the chief minister in Karnataka’s history — B. Rachaiah in the Ramakrishna Hegde cabinet and Mallikarjun Kharge in the S.M. Krishna government.