Nearly a week after assuming office, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on August 4 formed his ministry by inducting 29 ministers. This is the first cabinet expansion after Lingayat leader BS Yediyurappa resigned and Bommai took charge.
Having run the government with a “one-man cabinet” for a week, and negotiating with the BJP central high command multiple times in Delhi, Bommai could finally form his cabinet. Though delayed, this cabinet formation has been quicker as compared to BS Yediyurappa’s time in 2019, when he was made to wait for 20 days before he got the high command approval.
The new cabinet relies heavily on the caste base of the party and with a focus on the 2023 state elections. The party has roped in new faces and dropped senior leaders and ministers in the previous cabinet like Suresh Kumar, Jagadish Shettar, R Shankar, CP Yogeshwar, Shrimant Patil Laxman Savadi (who had served as Dy CM).
The BJP central leadership seems to have had a complete say in the list of ministers, which has a mix of young and old guard. The party has inducted those with an RSS background like Sunil Kumar and S Angara from Coastal Karnataka, and Prabhu Chavan from Aurad.
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Political analyst Narendra Pani says by keeping senior Lingayat leaders like Shettar out, the high command seems to have cleared the path for Bommai so that they do not drag him down internally.
The high command seems to have silenced BSY’s critics as well as those who sided with him. Also, most of the rebels who switched sides from Congress-JDS to BJP, have been made ministers in the new cabinet.
So, the new ministry is not completely BJP to the core, but it is a mix of leaders from different parties who have been with them since 2019.
There are 10 ministers, including the CM from the Lingayat community, and there are seven each from other backward castes and Vokkaliga communities. Besides, there are two ministers who are Brahmins and three from the scheduled caste and one from the scheduled tribe.
The selection of ministers clearly shows that the party has sidelined those who rebelled against BS Yediyurappa. MLAs like Arvind Bellad, Basangounda Patil Yatnal, C P Yogeshwar have all been dropped. On the other hand, while the Yediyurappa camp had expected his son B Y Vijayendra and MLA Renukacharya, political advisor and his close aide to be given a berth, both did not make it to the list. By this, the high command has ensured that Bommai does not remain as a shadow of Yediyurappa.
According to political analyst Prof Muzzafar Azadi, the central high command has sent out a signal to those complaining against Yediyurappa to fall in line and not to create problems within the party. Besides, by ignoring Yediyurappa’s demands, the party has also weakened his position in the long run.
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Azadi says by bringing in new faces, the BJP must be eyeing the next election. Moreover, they have not brought in many leaders from the RSS as well since they must have realised that playing the Hindutva card strongly may not work in Karnataka.
“Except in certain pockets, Karnataka as a whole is not cut out for the RSS kind of politics. Also, the baggage of accommodating rebel MLAs (which led to the fall of the coalition government) may have reduced their chances to bring in more hard-core Hindutva people,” Azadi points out.
Also, by giving enough representation to Vokkaligas (7 ministers), the party may be eyeing the Old-Mysore region, where they are yet to make a big dent. But Azadi says that most of the Vokkaliga ministers who are inducted are not rustic and do not command followers beyond their constituencies.
Pani points out that by keeping out RSS faces like Ananth Kumar Hegde, CT Ravi or even Aravind Limbavali, the central leadership has sort of silenced the RSS too in the entire game, only to focus on the 2023 elections on caste lines.
The appointment of Shashikala Jolle (Nippani-Belagavi), the lone woman minister in the cabinet has come probably in the wake of the party losing its strength in the region, following the sex scandal involving former BJP Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi. And, in the absence of Yediyurappa, the party is aiming to consolidate the Lingayat votes by promoting Jolle and Umesh Katti.
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Since Jolle’s husband is an MP from Chikkodi and Katti is an MLA from Hukkeri, the party wants to strengthen its base and not lose its hold in that region.
Asked why Jolle was included in the Cabinet despite corruption allegations against her in the egg distribution scheme, Bommai said, “For now, it’s only an accusation and there’s not even a complaint against her.” Bommai added that he sought details from her about the allegations.
There is dissent as well with supporters of a few MLAs like Neharu Olekar (Haveri) and Raju Gowda (Hanur) taking to the streets to protest their leaders not making it to the final list. Analysts feel it may not cause significant friction for the party in the short run, but in the long run, it will be interesting to watch how Yediyurappa will act.
While the BJP has the backing of JDS in case the party faces troubles in the next few months, Yediyurappa may play the victim card and rope in people to his side and divide the BJP ahead of the 2023 elections.
BJP spokesperson Ganesh Karnik does not feel Yediyurappa will turn into a troublemaker. “The cabinet has been formed under difficult circumstances countering various factors, including meeting some of Yediyurappa’s demands. So, we don’t think he’s upset,” says Karnik.
To Prof Azadi, Yediyurappa remains a wounded tiger for now. But he may not wish to break the party in the middle of the term but he will do it ahead of the 2023 elections. “He (BSY) may withdraw himself from campaigning for the BJP in the coming months and try to see they are weakened in the long run, perhaps before the next elections,” observes Azadi.