Karnataka ministry composition may help Gowda clan fight back (News Analysis)

May 31st, 2008 - 2:25 pm ICT by admin  

By V.S. Karnic
Bangalore, May 31 (IANS) The composition of the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministry in Karnataka and south India may well turn out to be its biggest headache and provide ammunition to the opposition. The inclusion of two mining magnates from the iron-ore rich Bellary district and their loyalist in the ministry is certain to be used by the clan of former prime minister and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) president H.D. Deve Gowda to go on the offensive to revive their sagging fortunes.

The mining magnates in the ministry headed by B.S. Yeddyurappa are brothers, G. Janardhana Reddy and G. Karunakara Reddy, and the loyalist is B. Sriramulu.

Yeddyurappa and 29 others, including the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu, took oath in Bangalore Friday.

Janardhana Reddy and Sriramulu had almost brought down the JD-S-BJP coalition government in 2007 by their serious charges against then chief minister and Deve Gowda’s son, H.D. Kumaraswamy.

A member of the legislative council, Janardhana Reddy had claimed that Kumaraswamy had taken a Rs.1.5 billion bribe to allow illegal mining in Bellary. Sriramulu, who was tourism minister, had gone a step further and accused Kumaraswamy of attempting to murder him during the Bellary civic body poll campaign.

The BJP had suspended Janardhana Reddy from the party and forced Sriramulu to resign from the ministry to placate Kumaraswamy and save the coalition. However, the coalition did not last long as Kumaraswamy did not honour his word to make way for Yeddyurappa to succeed him as chief minister.

Janardhana Reddy’s suspension was revoked. Sriramulu regained prominence in the party, courtesy his proximity to the Reddy brothers.

Now, though Yeddyurappa has appealed for cooperation from all to run his government, at least the JD-S, which is fully controlled by the Deve Gowda clan, is not likely to oblige.

Smarting under the thrashing in the polls, the JD-S will find it difficult to reconcile to seeing its bitter political rivals as ministers and would prefer an aggressive opposition role in the hope of bouncing back in the parliamentary polls due early next year.

For Deve Gowda, battling irrelevance at both state and national level, the composition of the first BJP ministry in Karnataka is an opportunity knocking at his doors.

“This is my last electoral battle,” Deve Gowda, who turned 75 on May 18, had told the Karnataka electorate during his campaign.

“A new one has just been thrust on me by the BJP,” may well become his new slogan as he explores ways to save his clan from the expected attack from mining barons backing the BJP in Karnataka.

The BJP has been under attack from several quarters in Karnataka, including a section within the party, for giving the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu importance in the organisation.

The party has defended itself, asking why it was being singled out when the Congress also had a rich mine owner backing it and contesting the elections as its nominee.

Mining baron and Congress candidate Santosh Lad lost the May polls from Bellary.

However, the inclusion of the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu in the cabinet has come as a surprise even to many in the BJP.

More so because Jagadish Shettar, a senior BJP leader from north Karnataka, which the party considers to be its stronghold, was denied a ministerial berth and offered the assembly speaker’s post.

Shettar has refused and his supporters Friday burnt a bus and damaged several others in his home town Hubli in the north Karnataka district of Dharwad.

Karunakara Reddy, a member of the Lok Sabha, won the seat in Harapanahalli in Davangere district in central Karnataka. He was fielded to defeat former senior JD-S leader M.P. Prakash, who joined the Congress ahead of the assembly polls after toying with the idea of going with the BJP.

Karunakara Reddy’s brother played a major role in enlisting the support of six independents for the BJP government, which was three short of the majority mark of 113 in the 225-member house.

The BJP won 110 seats in the polls held on May 10, 16 and 22 and had to get the independents’ backing to achieve majority. It now has the support of all six independent legislators. Congress got 80 seats and the JD-S the remaining 28.

Five of the independents have been made cabinet ministers.

The dissatisfaction within the BJP over denial of ministerial berth to Shettar and making five independents cabinet ministers will provide fodder to the JD-S to blunt the expected attack and taunts from the BJP over its ‘betrayal’ - a reference to Kumaraswamy’s refusal to make way for Yeddyurappa in their short-lived coalition ministry last year.

By design or otherwise, the Congress has helped possible coordination with the JD-S in the assembly by appointing its state unit chief Mallikarjun Kharge as leader of its legislature party.

Kharge enjoys a good rapport with Deve Gowda, unlike other Congress leaders like Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar, who were also strong contenders for the post.

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