Shaky start

Published : Dec 07, 2007 00:00 IST

BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa tries to look confident but the ground is unstable under his feet.

in BangaloreB.S. Yeddyurappa

KARNATAKAS 19th Chief Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Partys (BJP) first in South India, 64-year-old B.S. Yeddyurappa, took his oath of office on November 12 on the steps of the Vidhana Soudha before a huge crowd of supporters and a phalanx of central leaders of the BJP who had come to Bangalore to witness a moment of history for the party. The Chief Minister took his oath in the name of God and the farmers of the State. Four of his colleagues were sworn in with him.

This was a special occasion for the saffron party, which has had it sights set on Karnataka ever since it became an electoral and political force in 1991. Karnataka has been seen as a springboard for its expansion in the South. It ferried busloads of people from all over the State, particularly from Shimoga, the Chief Ministers home district, to watch the event. The formal assumption of office by the BJP Chief Minister was thus a long-awaited moment, even if the partys public image has been tarnished by the display of the naked opportunism of its leaders in the past few weeks.

If the swearing-in ceremony was an important event for the party, it was a red-letter day for Yeddyurappa, who has pursued the top gaddi quite openly and unabashedly, seeking intervention and help from sources both divine and secular. The throne was almost his on October 3, when the Janata Dal (Secular) Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy was to step down and make way for Yeddyurappa according to the terms of a power-transfer agreement worked out between the coalition partners in February 2006.

Once Presidents Rule was imposed in the State on October 9, the vision of the gaddi faded away only to resurface briefly a day later when, on hearing of a possible rapprochement with the JD(S), Yeddyurappa rushed to Bangalore from Tumkur where he had just inaugurated an anti-JD(S) Dharma Yatra. When, on the night of October 26, Yeddyurappa was woken up by a late-night call from his arch-rival, Kumaraswamy, who asked for the hand of the BJP in a new coalition, he was more than happy to extend it.

The BJP met Governor Rameshwar Thakur on October 27 and submitted a letter staking its claim to form the government with the support of the 39-member JD(S) group. They sought revocation of Presidents Rule under which the Assembly had been kept in suspended animation. Once he was sure that the proposed coalition would have the numbers, the Governor formally invited Yeddyurappa on November 9 to form the government.

Although Yeddyurappa has been exuding confidence that a BJP-led coalition will not only take office but complete its 19-month tenure, the ground is anything but firm under his feet. On coming to power, the five-member BJP Ministry announced a series of decisions that irked its coalition partner. The JD(S) was quick to announce that it would only join the new Ministry after the floor test was conducted on November 19 and that the new government could not take any major decisions before that.

In the first Cabinet meeting of the new government, Yeddyurappa took several populist decisions to distribute 4.35 lakh cycles to Standard VIII students, to issue 12.71 lakh ration cards before December 15, and so on. The Chief Minister reappointed as Advocate General Uday Holla, who had resigned from the post when Presidents Rule was imposed. M. Shankar Bidri, Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, was appointed Additional DGP (Intelligence). V.P. Baligar, a senior civil servant, was appointed Principal Secretary and Siddaiah the Chief Ministers Secretary. The appointments drew criticism from Yeddyurappas political opponents, who accused him of displaying a casteist bias for his Lingayat community. No less criticised, and splashed all over the media, was Yeddyurappas entry into office with an elaborate Vedic ritual conducted by Brahmin priests in his official chamber in the Secretariat building.

The JD(S) leadership watched with alarm the actions and statements of a government that had not even proven its majority in the Assembly. A section of the JD(S) leadership floated the idea of giving outside support to the BJP Ministry, instead of joining it, as a way of distancing itself from the BJPs communal agenda. If the BJP veered off course, the JD(S) could always withdraw support with justification, argued the proponents of this view.

However, the idea found few takers among JD(S) legislators, most of whom said they would have rather opted for fresh elections than give the BJP government outside support. The JD(S) then once again brought to the table the conditions that its national president, H.D. Deve Gowda, had drawn up as a sort of memorandum of understanding between the two parties.

In order to rein in the new government and prevent it from taking unilateral decisions before the JD(S) formally joined the Ministry, the party wrote to the BJP asking for a formal, written understanding based on the original 12 conditions minus one (that the partys support to the BJP would cease if Lok Sabha elections were announced). The letter specified that Kumaraswamy must be made chairman of the coordinating committee and that the new government should not take decisions before the full complement of the Ministry was sworn in. The JD(S) sought the portfolios of Urban Development (including Bangalore City Development, which is usually held by the Chief Minister), and Mining (in exchange for Excise). The JD(S) will have 18 Ministers and the BJP 16 in the 34-member Cabinet.

Yeddyurappa quickly acquiesced to the demands, stating that his government would refrain from taking any decisions or making any major announcements. He told reporters that he would spend his time visiting temples and mutts in the State until the November 19 floor test. He sought four days time to discuss the list of conditions with the central leadership of his party. In response, the JD(S) said it would be agreeable to a joint swearing-in ceremony once the government proved its majority in the Assembly.

Although the differences between the parties appear to have been ironed out, there are several imponderables in the present situation. Deve Gowda, who deliberately kept himself out of the action during the stitching together of the new alliance, is known to be averse to it and is looking for a handle that he can use to break it. If Yeddyurappa does not commit himself to the 11-point written understanding, the JD(S) could use that to deny the BJP support during the floor test.

The second issue that could dissolve the present government is a pending disqualification motion against the JD(S) bloc. The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Krishna, was scheduled to hear on November 17 two petitions seeking the disqualification of 37 MLAs, including Kumaraswamy, under the anti-defection law. He adjourned the hearing to November 24. However, if the Speaker, who was elected on the JD(S) ticket, chooses to disqualify the group, the Ministry will collapse. Thus, it may well be Deve Gowda who decides the future of Karnatakas new BJP-led government.

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