A tightrope walk

Published : Jun 20, 2008 00:00 IST

AT noon on May 30, the fireworks started to go off. But the flag-waving crowds that had gathered in front of the Vidhana Soudha, the seat of power in Karnataka, to be part of the Bharatiya Janata Partys victory celebrations had to wait until two minutes past 2 p.m. because that was the precise time astrologers had determined would be the most auspicious for B.S. Yeddyurappa to be sworn in as the head of the States 27th government. At the appointed hour, besides Yeddyurappa, 29 members were sworn in as Cabinet Ministers.

Present on the occasion were senior BJP leaders, including Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani, party president Rajnath Singh, former party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and Gopinath Munde; Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal; and Chief Ministers of States where the BJP is in power on its own or in alliance, including Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh), P.S. Badal (Akali Dal, Punjab), B.C. Khanduri (Uttarakhand) and Vasundhara Raje Scindia (Rajasthan).

If astrologers had their say in dictating the time for the swearing-in ceremony, Hindu priests had a big role in Yeddyurappas first engagement as Chief Minister. Soon after taking oath in the name of God and farmers, Yeddyurappa, his family and friends, Cabinet colleagues, BJP leaders and legislators, headed for the Chief Ministers chambers where priests performed pooja for the well-being of the government.

While earlier, too, Chief Ministers have performed pooja in their official chambers, political observers were apprehensive about Yeddyurappas and the BJPs religious propensity and the mixing of religion and matters of state.

The new Chief Minister was quick to reiterate his partys promise that equal attention will be given [for] the welfare of people of all sections irrespective of their regional and religious background and that development would be the only agenda before the new government.

Yeddyurappa, who called his governments formation the beginning of a new chapter [for the BJP] in South India, stressed that his dispensation was a stable one and enjoyed a majority. Despite all the rhetoric, ruling Karnataka with a slender majority (116 in a 224-member House) and that too with the support of six independents, five of whom have been accommodated in the Cabinet, will be far tougher than forming the government.

Yeddyurappa will have first to tackle the disgruntled elements within his party, mostly those who have not been accommodated in the Cabinet. Most notable could be the senior leader from Hubli-Dharwad, Jagadish Shettar, whose non-inclusion led to violence in Hubli. The offer of the Speakers post has not enthused Shettar.

The Chief Minister will have to be aware of the challenges posed by BJP general secretary and MP H.N. Ananth Kumar and his loyalists. Yeddyurappa, who was toppled last November a week after assuming office when the Janata Dal (Secular), the BJPs erstwhile ally, withdrew support, will have until June 7 to prove the governments majority.

Having already selected 30 members to his Council of Ministers, Yeddyurappa can induct four more Ministers under the Constitution (91st Amendment) Act, 2003, which stipulates that the strength of a Council of Ministers should not exceed 15 per cent of the total number of members of the lower House. But he will have to walk the tightrope since the BJP is yet to give representation to 11 of the States 29 districts. While Hassan, Ramanagram and Chamarajanagar returned no BJP legislators and understandably find no representation in the Cabinet, it is surprising that Dharwad, Kodagu, Mysore, Gadag, Raichur and Chickmagalur also do not.

Yeddyurappa has been conscious of the fact that almost three-quarters of the BJPs final tally of 110 seats was largely on account of successes in Bangalore City and the 12 districts of northern Karnataka that come under the Hyderabad-Karnataka, Bombay-Karnataka, Bellary and Karwar regions. Bangalore City, which returned 17 BJP legislators, has six representatives in the Cabinet, while northern Karnataka, which rewarded the party with 57 legislators, has 11. Shimoga, the home district of Yeddyurappa, has three representatives, while Bellary, Bagalkot, Davanagere, Haveri and Chitradurga have two each.

Given the number of castes and subcastes that make up Karnatakas political cauldron, the Chief Minister has tried to accommodate as many castes as he can. While the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have seven and one representative respectively, Other Backward Classes and Brahmins have three each. The two dominant castes in the State, Lingayats and Vokkaligas, are also well represented: seven Lingayats, including Yeddyurappa, and four Vokkaligas. Shobha Karandlaje is the lone woman in the Cabinet.

Aware of the criticism that the BJP did not field even a single Muslim candidate, Yeddyurappa has fulfilled a pre-election promise by including in the Cabinet Mumtaz Ali Khan, who has been with the BJP since 2004 but is not a member of either House of the State legislature.

Ravi Sharma
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