Bengaluru: Cabinet expansion pangs are back to haunt Karnataka after 13 of the 17 'rebel' MLAs were voted back to power in the by-elections.
All the rebels now want ministerial berths in the Cabinet and several have even specified their preferred portfolios. But while Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has all along been saying he would expand the Cabinet after 'Makara Sankaranthi' on January 15 (in order to skip the ‘inauspicious’ dhanur masa), he has also indicated that not all rebels will be accommodated.
"Just because someone says something does not mean I have to do this (give all rebels ministerial posts). We will have to go by what the national president says," Yeddyurappa told reporters during a visit in Raichur.
He was responding to statements by a few rebels to ensure all get representation in the Cabinet. He said he was planning to go to Delhi by Monday evening to meet Amit Shah and finalise the nitty-gritties of Cabinet expansion.
After 17 MLAs resigned to bring down the earlier JDS-Congress coalition government in July last year, by-elections were held in December in 15 of these seats (by-elections to two more are yet to be held, as they are caught up in court cases). The BJP won 13 of them — of whom 11 are 'rebel' MLAs who had been disqualified. Another MLA R Shankar was promised he would be made a minister after being made an MLC — he did not contest the by-elections on this promise.
Hours after his statement, one of the rebels H Vishwanath who, in fact, lost the election this time, told reporters that all 17 had 'made sacrifices' to make Yediyurappa the chief minister so all must be made ministers.
"It has always been our demand that all must be made ministers. In case they don’t, wait and watch what happens," he said.
Yediyurappa took oath as Chief Minister in late July and it took him nearly a month to induct 17 ministers into the Cabinet at the time, leaving 16 spots vacant deliberately. As the 'rebels' were disqualified at the time, they were not given place in the Cabinet but were told that these spots are just in the waiting for them. However, now that a majority of them have won back on BJP tickets, they are pushing the BJP to get themselves into the Cabinet.
The BJP is caught in a dilemma over balancing regional representation. Three of the 11 are from Belagavi district alone, which already has two other ministers, including deputy chief minister, in the Cabinet.
"Talks are going on constantly. We have to consider social justice (representation of all communities) and regional balance (representation to all districts). From the highest level, they are trying to convince a few rebels that they should agree they won’t be inducted immediately, they need to be patient. The chief minister, home minister, revenue minister and trouble-shooter R Ashok are all trying to get them to agree. We will do this after taking them into confidence," said a top BJP functionary.
But patience is not a virtue that politicians are known for, and how many may agree is turning out to be a big question. As it is, the two MLAs who were defeated -- H Vishwanath and MTB Nagaraj -- have been definitely told they cannot claim a place in the Cabinet immediately. R Shankar, the other 'independent' who jumped from giving outside support to withdrawing it later to then jumping from his own party to the Congress since the Assembly 2018 election, will also "have to wait."
As far as the winners are concerned, though, there is considerable impatience. One of them had even told reporters that he has no reason to doubt the CM's word given to him at the time of the rebellion that he would become a minister. He said he expects a portfolio related to agriculture or food and civil supplies.
The fact that chief minister put his Delhi trip on hold for yet another day as he couldn't get Home Minister Amit Shah's appointment, has not helped matters much.
But even otherwise, those in the know in BJP aren't sure how this new balance of power in the Cabinet is going to be pulled off. Districts like Mysore have no representation in the Cabinet. There are communities that have no representation, while the Cabinet is Lingayat-heavy. There are eight (including the CM) Lingayats, the community that forms the party's core vote-bank. There are three Vokkaligas, the other dominant community in Karnataka, and with rebel Narayana Gowda getting elected, he could possibly add to the caste strength. There is no way he would not be considered as he is the only MLA from the Mandya district for the party, a district where BJP has scant support-base and where it is focusing on spreading its might.
The CM had earlier said that he wants to finalise the expansion before his proposed trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos (on January 21) but it's proving to be a tight-rope walk.
"We cannot fill all 16 Cabinet vacancies and two bypolls are yet to be held, so that would be reserved for those two MLAs if and when they get elected. Of the 11 who are in the reckoning, at least two or three, perhaps more, have to be persuaded to wait. So we would have a limited expansion of around eight ministers. That is because there is already a big lobby building up within the 'original BJP loyalists' to be included in the Cabinet. There are genuine causes, like MLAs from coastal Karnataka, Chitradurga-Davangere districts in central Karnataka," a BJP MLC told News18.
Coastal Karnataka, which has a big support-base for the BJP, has just one minister in Kota Srinivasa Poojary.
Amid all the calcuations, women's representation will probably be the last to be considered. There is only one woman in the Cabinet - Shashikala Jolle – and there is a scant likelihood of that number changing.