BS Yediyurappa half cabinet leaves deep discontent in Karnataka BJP, but Amit Shah shows who's boss; deft manoeuvring not CM's forte

Karnataka BJP strongman 'BSY' may be fast turning into a 'BS Why' for the party's central leadership. And it's not just because chief minister BS Yediyurappa is past 75 years of age, which is also Bharatiya Janata Party's supposed retirement age for positions of authority. It is more because of the pronounced aversion of party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to letting regional satraps with personal ambitions rule the roost.

Consider what happened in Karnataka on Tuesday, when Shah finally allowed Yediyurappa to form his ministry — in fact, he formed only half a ministry with 17 ministers against the sanctioned strength of 34. This meant two things:

  1. It was Shah who picked the ministers, indicating he is the real boss in Karnataka. Shah has pretty good reasons to do what he has done. Yet the message conveyed to Yediyurappa was not rude enough to provoke him to protest openly, or worse, rebel, but subtle enough to drive home the point, which was evident from Yediyurappa's dour face as he watched his ministers take oath.
  2. The composition of the team left deep discontent among those who were left out, including some of Yediyurappa's own close supporters from his Lingayat community. Several unhappy MLAs of the party refused to attend the swearing-in show at the Raj Bhavan, while some openly vented their frustration.

Angara S, a five-term Dalit MLA from the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada, said that BJP has "no value" for principles. Supporters of Chitradurga MLA Thippa Reddy set a motorbike on fire to protest against his exclusion. And it suddenly dawned on Appachu Ranjan, MLA from Madikeri, that BJP takes loyalty "for granted".

But Shah apparently expected this explosion of protests and knew how to deal with it and protect the government with a hairbreadth majority in the Assembly.

Shah all the way

This has once again confirmed one thing: If Modi was the primary vote-aggregator in the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka, it was, it is and it will be Shah all the way as far as running the party in the state goes.

 BS Yediyurappa half cabinet leaves deep discontent in Karnataka BJP, but Amit Shah shows whos boss; deft manoeuvring not CMs forte

Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa during the sweaing-in ceremony of Jagadish Shettar in Bengaluru on Tuesday. PTI

This was clear even when the coalition government of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) collapsed last month, largely because of ugly dogfights within the alliance and also significantly as a result of the Yediyurappa's "Operation Lotus" to woo dissidents in the two parties. Shah was in no hurry to let Yediyurappa become the chief minister. He took 70 hours before he gave his nod. And then he took 25 days to let Yediyurappa form half his cabinet. In the past three-weeks, the party's Lingayat community veteran had to make two visits to Delhi and make countless calls to get approval to form his team, during which time he was ridiculed as the head of a one-man government.

Passage of important Bills in Parliament, developments in Kashmir, death of Sushma Swaraj and floods in Karnataka, contributed to the delay, but the real reason for Shah's prevarication was to show Yediyurappa who called the final shots in Karnataka. In the process, the party president kept adding to and deleting from the list of probable ministers that the chief minister had submitted.

Yediyurappa may have expected Shah to consult him and then approve it. But Shah "consulted" half-a-dozen other leaders as well, not all of whom have love lost for the state leader. It goes without saying that some of Yediyurappa's followers like Murugesh Nirani (a Lingayat MLA from Bagalkot district) were excluded, while some whom he detested like CT Ravi (a Vokkaliga from Chikmagaluru district) were included.

The fact that Shah sanctioned only 17 ministers means there will be at least one more round of ministry-making, though nobody, not even Yediyurappa, knows when that will come. This phased process is a time-tested Congress tradition, aimed at keeping the hopes of those left out in the first round alive and making them wait instead of rebel. In this case, Yediyurappa has to wait as well.

This waiting, something new for Yediyurappa, is not relished by him. He had a free rein as a chief minister for three years from 2008 with blessings from leaders as high as LK Advani and Rajnath Singh, who were evidently overawed by his Lingayat caste base and supposed indispensability. At that time, Yediyurappa picked and dropped ministers at will and, by the time he resigned in 2011 following corruption allegations, he made sure that the party was in a shambles. Two other BJP chief ministers followed him before the 2013 elections, which the party lost badly largely because Yediyurappa launched his own outfit in 2012.

Yediyurappa returned to BJP in 2014, led the party to victory in the 2018 Assembly elections and has risen like a phoenix once again to become the chief minister. But Shah does not want a repeat of what happened in his earlier term. The current government's slender majority calls for deft manoeuvring, not a forte of Yediyurappa. Besides, Shah knows the BJP must consolidate itself further in Karnataka, the only state it rules in the south, as a prelude to expanding its footprint in the two Telugu states.

Political leadership is a matter of making right choices at the right time, and few know this better than Shah. When the coalition government fell, he had a choice between making and not making Yediyurappa the CM. Shah chose something between the two. He made Yediyurappa the chief minister but with clipped wings. As for possible dissidence on account of ministry-formation, Shah knows he can bank on some more rebels from Congress and JD(S) to back the government if things come to a crunch.

Updated Date: Aug 20, 2019 19:03:36 IST