New Delhi: The Cabinet reshuffle was expected to see a lot more faces from election-bound states, particularly Karnataka, where the BJP is trying to wrest power from the Congress in the Assembly elections 2018.
One addition from Karnataka — Anant Kumar Hegde — has left even the party men confused and surprised, as they had been expecting at least one MP from the Lingayat community to be added to the Ministry, keeping into account the debate over members of the community asking for a separate religion status.
Modi, however, settled for Hegde, a Brahmin leader, who has been elected to the Parliament five times from Uttara Kannada in coastal Karnataka. Sources said that by choosing Hegde, the BJP is trying to beat chief minister Siddaramaiah at his own game, after he came out in support for separate religious status for the Lingayat community. Hegde has consistently championed communal causes and the party feels they can whip up the support of the majority through him.
But this is an MP who comes with much baggage. Earlier this year, Hegde was allegedly involved in a fracas with doctors at the Totagarara Seva Samiti (TSS) Hospital in Sirsi. Hedge was caught on CCTV assaulting and manhandling the doctors, alleging negligence in treating his ailing mother. Later, the issue was settled after the hospital management and doctors reached a compromise with Hegde.
Interestingly, Hegde took oath in Hindi amid a row in Karnataka over alleged imposition of Hindi at the cost of Kannada.
There are zero FIRs against him as per the affidavit he filed ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. He doesn’t hold a degree (he’s passed class 12 though) and says his occupation is 'business and agriculture.' He first became MP at the young age of 27 in 1996, defeating sitting 4 times Congress MP Devaraya Naik in his first contest in electoral politics in a constituency where Muslims make up barely 12 percent of the electorate.
He has earlier been in the news for provocative speeches -- having said, in early 2016, that as long as Islam was there in this world, there will be terrorism.
"Until we eradicate Islam from the world we will not be able to eliminate terrorism from the world... Islam is a bomb placed to disrupt world peace. As long as there is Islam there will be no peace in the world," he reportedly told a press conference, brazenly asking all reporters to ensure they quote him verbatim.
The fact that Hegde carries so much baggage is perhaps less significant than the fact that even in party circles he is known as a short tempered person.
So what tipped the circumstances in his favour?
Perhaps the need to have a representative from coastal Karnataka, the communally sensitive region that has seen quite a bit of political violence, in the ministry. The BJP perhaps feels it can revive the sympathies of the majority communities as “being victim” of some of the violence. It is also where traditionally the BJP has won significantly, though it lost ground in the last Assembly elections.
There are nearly 30 Assembly seats where the BJP needs to do well if it has to be in a govt-forming position in Karnataka in 2018. Giving importance to a coastal MP, would give voters the necessary impetus they need.
There are three MPs from the region, but Hegde has won the most number of times—five, as against the other two from the region — Sobha Karandlaje and Nalin Kumar Kateel. Karandlaje and Kateel are also known for their party organization skills, and perhaps better serve the needs of the party in managing pre-election campaigns and propaganda.
Besides, the party has already projected one prominent Lingayat — B S Yeddyurappa -- as its chief ministerial candidate for the 2018 elections -- so the high command perhaps did not feel the need to assuage this community any more than that. Suresh Angadi, for instance, who had been sounded out just last week and was confident of making it to the Cabinet, will remain disappointed.
So will B. Sriramulu, the party's Scheduled Tribe MP and thorn-in-the-flesh in Bellary, who was hopeful of a Cabinet berth, despite the illegal mining scam that Sriramulu and his friend Janardhan Reddy were alleged to be involved in, which ultimately cost the party its government in 2013. It remains to be seen how these two are used by the party ahead of 2018.