The dreaded coronavirus seems to have had an unexpected side effect on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka. An open dispute erupted between chief minister BS Yediyurappa and his health minister B Sriramulu over handling of the situation in the state.
On Tuesday, Yediyurappa abruptly divested Sriramulu of all COVID-19 related matters, assigning the duties to medical education minister Dr K Sudhakar.
Raj Bhavan also issued a special notification in this regard. Within minutes, the media started attributing it to Sriramulu’s “incompetence”.
However, two hours later, Yediyurappa rescinded his decision, again entrusting Sriramulu with coronavirus related responsibilities, leading to further conjecture and confusion.
According to insiders, an irate Sriramulu drove to the chief minister’s house with his resignation letter in hand, demanding an explanation for his downgrading. They also exchanged some heated words, reliable sources confirm.
After that, unwilling to take on the powerful tribal leader, the chief minister decided to restore his lost pride.
But, this made Sudhakar angry. The MBBS and two-time MLA is a new entrant in the BJP. He had defected with 17 other Congress and JD(S) legislators to the saffron party in July last year. After he won a bypoll from Chikkaballapur in December, Yediyurappa rewarded him with the medical education portfolio.
Young, media savvy and educated, Sudhakar impressed the BJP leadership by valiantly taking on the giants on the opposition benches: former CM Siddaramaiah and former Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar.
After the coronavirus threat became real, Yediyurappa asked him to help Sriramulu in handling the crisis. Using his medical experience, Sudhakar managed to put up a creditable show, again impressing the chief minister and even opposition leaders.
Even in presentations, meetings and media briefings, Sudhakar got the most limelight, which apparently did not go down well with Sriramulu who is already upset over not being made a deputy chief minister.
The divestment of a responsibility in the middle of a huge crisis naturally angered him. Without waiting for any calls from the CM, he rushed to his house with a warning, claim his close associates.
“He was upset, not because of divestment of a big responsibility. He was upset over the manner in which it was done. He feels that it was done with the intention of sidelining and making him look bad in the eyes of public in the time of coronavirus outbreak,” said one of his close aides
According to the CM Yediyurappa camp, there was no such design to discredit Sriramulu, whom he values as an important BJP leader. “Two ministers handling the same issue had led to some confusion. Just to avoid that and streamline the process, the CM entrusted the entire work to Sudhakar. The chief minister thought since he is a doctor, he could do a better job than Sriramulu. Media speculation is baseless,” said one of the CM’s associates.
Sudhakar now does not seem to be happy with the developments, as he feels that it was an avoidable controversy.