B.S. Yediyurappa was sworn in Chief Minister of Karnataka on July 26 after the Bharatiya Janata Party toppled the Congress-Janata Dal (S) coalition government. Even as parts of north and west Karnataka were reeling from floods, Yediyurappa took an unprecedented three weeks after that to announce his Cabinet of 17 Ministers. Portfolio allocation was announced a week later, on August 26, and was immediately met with dissatisfaction among senior BJP leaders in the State.
Yediyurappa’s Cabinet is set to have three Deputy Chief Ministers, which is a first in the political history of Karnataka. The Chief Minister is not in favour of this move but it has been imposed by the central leadership, say informed sources. While the choice of Govind Karjol, a senior Madiga Dalit leader of the party, has not been questioned, the elevation of relative lightweights C.N. Ashwathnarayan (a Vokkaliga from Bengaluru) and Laxman Savadi (a Lingayat from Belagavi district in north Karnataka) as Deputy Chief Ministers has caused intense resentment in the State unit of the party.
While Ashwathnarayan is a three-time MLA, this is the first time he has been made a Minister. Savadi’s appointment is also surprising as he lost in the 2018 Assembly election when the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 105 seats. His reputation was also tarnished when he was forced out of the BJP Ministry in 2012 after he was caught watching pornographic videos on his phone inside the Assembly.
The choice of Deputy Chief Ministers is also surprising when one considers that Yediyurappa’s Cabinet has a former Chief Minister (Jagadish Shettar) and two former Deputy Chief Ministers (K.S. Eshwarappa and R. Ashoka). Another serious contender who was ignored for the post was B. Sriramulu, the close associate of the Reddy brothers who has emerged as a major leader of the Valmiki Nayaka Scheduled Tribe community.
With the Supreme Court rejecting the plea for an urgent hearing of the 17 disqualified rebel MLAs of the Congress and the JD(S), the BJP enjoys only a slim majority in the depleted State Assembly. Yediyurappa’s political acumen will be tested as he gets down to the task of governance with a wobbly government that will eventually have to make space for the political aspirations of the disqualified MLAs.