BJP ‘high command’ key to new Karnataka government’s stability (News Analysis)

June 8th, 2008 - 12:17 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By V.S. Karnic
Bangalore, June 8 (IANS) The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central leadership faces a piquant situation of having to do a Congress act to prevent the party’s first government in Karnataka and south India from falling apart in view of the slender majority in the state assembly and the possible dissatisfaction among ministers over portfolios. The BJP’s leadership got the first taste of the problems that will call for a pro-active role by it even before the celebrations over the party’s triumph in Karnataka came to an end. It intervened to persuade Jagadish Shettar, a senior leader from north Karnataka who was keen on a ministerial berth, to accept the speaker’s post.

Shettar’s supporters see the denial of a place in the ministry to him as Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s way to check his possible growth as an alternative leader. Shettar has been identified with party general secretary from Karnataka and former union minister, H.N. Ananath Kumar, who has been at odds with Yeddyurappa for the control of the Karnataka unit of BJP.

Yeddyurappa, with just 110 members of his party in the 225-member assembly, is dependent on the support of the six independents for the survival of his government that took office May 30.

Five of the independents have been made cabinet ministers, which is also causing heartburn among BJP legislators as that many lost out in the race for a ministerial berth.

Acutely aware of the perils of running a government with wafer-thin majority and the difficulties in keeping the party united behind him, Yeddyurappa has chosen the easy way out-final decision, whether on Shettar as speaker or on portfolio allocation, is taken by the party central leaders.

Though he and 29 others were sworn in on May 30, Yeddyurappa refrained from allotting portfolios till after the confidence vote in the assembly, which he won on June 6. With Shettar incident still fresh, he clearly did not want any trouble, particularly from the independents, before the trust vote in the assembly.

While Shettar did not publicly say he was upset over his exclusion from the ministry, at least two other BJP legislators, one from Mysore and another from Anekal on Bangalore’s outskirts, were vocal in demanding a berth. Their supporters staged demonstrations and Anekal, a taluq headquarter, was shutdown for a day. Shettar’s supporters in Hubli in north Karnataka district of Dharwad had burnt a bus and damaged others during their protest.

The protests have died down as the BJP ‘high command’ persuaded Shettar to take up the speaker’s post and did not yield to demands of the legislators from Mysore and Anekal.

However, these incidents will be a constant reminder to the BJP central leadership that it has to frequently come to the rescue of Yeddyurappa as portfolio allocation will only add to his and the party’s problems as there are many claimants for key ministries like home, urban development, power, mines, irrigation and transport.

Yeddyurappa and the BJP high command will also be wary of the clout three legislators from iron-ore rich Bellary district enjoy within the party state unit and with some central leaders. All the three, rich mine owners G. Janaradhana Reddy, his brother G. Karunakara Reddy and their lieutenant B. Sriramulu have been made ministers.

They are considered close to former union minister Sushma Swaraj who made Bellary famous when she took on Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls.

The Reddy brothers are believed to be major funders of BJP. They played a key role in enlisting the support of at least three of the six independents who helped BJP secure majority.

Yeddyurappa’s decision to take all of them into his ministry came as a surprise to many in BJP itself. There has been intense speculation in the media and in political circles ever since that the Reddy brothers are keen on getting either home or mines or forest. It is the forest department that clears proposal for mining and other activities.

On Saturday, June 7, Yeddyurappa inducted one more minister, Katta Subramanya Naidu taking the ministry’s strength to 31.

But there was no word on portfolios. Ministers present at Naidu’s swearing-in function said that they were expecting party general secretary and Karnataka unit in charge Arun Jaitley to visit Bangalore to finalise the allocation! Jaitely was expected to arrive late Saturday or Sunday morning.

Some time after BJP lost power in New Delhi after the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, its senior leader L.K. Advani had warned his party against its ‘Congressisation’.

He may now have to oversee a BJP ‘high command’, active like Congress ‘high command’, to keep supporting independents happy and dissidence within the party at bay to ensure the stability of the Yeddyurappa government.

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