The ruling BJP’s sweep of the Karnataka assembly by-election has secured its government in the state, but Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa faces the onerous challenge of accommodating the new MLAs in his cabinet. Of the 15 seats where elections were held, the BJP won 12, taking its tally in the 225-member assembly to 118 (including the speaker and one independent) — past the simple majority of 112.
The December 5 by-elections followed the disqualification of 17 MLAs by the assembly speaker in July, which eventually brought down the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in a trust vote. With the effective strength of the assembly reduced by the disqualifications, the numbers swung in the BJP’s favour and brought the Yediyurappa government to power.
In November, 16 of these disqualified MLAs joined the BJP when the Supreme Court, while upholding their disqualification, permitted them to contest elections. All 13 BJP candidates in the bypolls were from this group, which was promised cabinet posts by Yediyurappa for joining the party.
Leading the list of ministerial aspirants, sources say, is Ramesh Jarkiholi, who won the Gokak seat. He is lobbying for the deputy chief minister’s post. “Jarkiholi allegedly worked tirelessly for almost 10 months to bring down the Kumaraswamy government. It will be interesting to see how the BJP handles him,” says Rajesh Patil, a Dharwad-based political historian. Another aspirant for deputy CM is Anand Singh, a mine owner from Ballari who won the Vijayanagara seat. Yediyurappa already has three deputies.
Yediyurappa’s cabinet has 16 vacancies. If all 16 BJP entrants and disgruntled ministerial aspirants in the party are to be given berths, he may have to sack a minister or two. The challenge is to strike a balance between the new MLAs and the existing ministers.
Analysts say Yediyurappa may try to manipulate the situation. “The two new entrants who lost have less bargaining power now. To be appointed ministers, they must be nominated to the Upper House, which will not be easy,” says Bengaluru-based political commentator Dr A. Veerappa. The BJP has promised R. Shankar, the disqualified independent who joined the party, a ministerial berth as he made way for the party’s candidate in Ranebennur. He, too, will need entry into the legislature through the Upper House. “Two others, Mahesh Kumatalli and Shrimanth Patil, may get alternative offers. Eventually, only 12 of the 16 may make it to the cabinet,” adds Veerappa.
The other challenge will be portfolio distribution as some newly-elected MLAs, such as B.C. Patil, K. Gopalaiah, B.A. Basavaraja, K.C. Narayana Gowda and Anand Singh, may insist on plum portfolios. “We delivered as promised. The government is safe now. We expect key portfolios, considering the political risk we took,” says one MLA.
On the speculation that Yediyurappa himself may be replaced a year down the line, Veerappa says: “The BJP leadership is unlikely to disturb him for now. The party’s by-election victory margins are huge as Lingayats, the community Yediyurappa belongs to, dominate these constituencies.”
The results came as a rude shock to the opposition and forced heads to roll. Siddaramaiah, who led the Congress campaign, resigned as leader of the legislature party. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief Dinesh Gundu Rao and working president Eshwara Khandre followed suit. Siddaramaiah, who had predicted 12 seats for his party, said: “We thought the voters would teach opportunistic politicians a lesson. Our expectations failed.”
The JD(S) had expected wins in at least three seats: Krishnarajapet, Hunsur and Yeshvanthapura. Krishnarajapet went to the BJP while the Congress won from Hunsur. “This is an eye-opener for the JD(S) that it can no longer rely on Vokkaligas (second-largest community in Karnataka) alone. Vokkaligas are patronising other parties too,” said Prakash L., a political analyst from Mysuru.