Bengaluru: The Election Commission of India (ECI) has declared by-elections to 15 Assembly seats in Karnataka next month. Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa who is fighting a lonely battle at 76 is moving earth and heaven to prepare the party for the bypolls which will decide the future of his government. He has a hope because the opposition Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) unity has fallen apart with Siddaramaiah and HD Kumaraswamy attacking each other on a daily basis and cadres continuing to desert them.
Yediyurappa, who is facing flak from several corners for not getting even a penny as flood relief from the Centre, is trying to convince people that financial assistance will come from New Delhi soon.
On Tuesday, commenting on his plight, an emotional Yediyurappa said, “Whenever I take oath as chief minister, I face a new ‘agni parikshe’ (trial by fire). Now, I am facing the flood relief challenge. Record rains in 108-110 years have taken place leading to large-scale flooding and destruction. We have to resolve issues and help in construction of houses to those displaced. The loss is pegged at over Rs 40,000 crore. We are trying to get central help”.
The chief minister perhaps was looking for more vocal support from the party’s central leadership as he waded through the natural calamity in his state. This not happening, has only emboldened his rivals both within and outside the BJP.
Even though he has a Cabinet of 18 ministers with three deputy chief ministers, Yediyurappa knows that the buck stops with him. Putting up a brave face, he is touring the state assuring people that all is well. He has not taken a single day off in the last 60-plus days.
If he manages to win at least eight Assembly seats in the by-polls, the BJP will touch the simple majority mark of 113 in the 224-member House, thus, making his government stable. The target looks much easier on paper, but insiders claim disqualified MLAs of the JD(S) and Congress who had helped the saffron camp come to power are posing a real danger in the elections.
If the Supreme Court does not allow them to contest in the by-polls, they might rebel against the BJP. They have already given an ultimatum to Yediyurappa asking him to field their family members if the SC verdict goes against them. It has angered the local BJP leaders who fear that it will push them out of the party and make them irrelevant politically. Some have already sent a stern warning to Yediyurappa not to ignore them if he wants to stay in power.
Since the newly appointed state BJP president Nalin Kumar Kateel is inexperienced and lacks in stature, the chief minister himself is calling the shots and handling the crisis.
“Without Central aid, it would be impossible to handle the flood relief. The loss is huge. The economic slowdown has also added to the woes. Yediyurappa is not really in the good books of the party high command. If he wants to continue in power, he has to win the bypolls in a big way. He also knows that the current BJP is not the BJP of 2008 when he had led the party to victory. Everything is fluid now,” said a senior party leader wishing not to be identified.
What may help him, however, is the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a strong BJP under Amit Shah and a highly demoralised the JDS and Congress camp. Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy have been openly attacking each other and embarrassing both parties.
Recently, after the senior Congress leader has called Kumaraswamy a vulture, the latter said Siddaramaiah was the scavenger who devoured his coalition government. The opposition cadre is also depleting after the collapse of its government two months ago. Many have decided to wait and watch instead of going after the BJP.
However, Yediyurappa is fighting a fighting complicated battle. Ironically, the BJP is going through its best phase at the national stage since its inception, but there are question marks over Yediyurappa’s own form.
Speaking to reporters in Chitradurga, he said, in some districts there is a drought-like situation and the government has to also respond to it. “I’m hopeful of getting funds from Centre in another four to five days. We are giving special attention in providing relief to those affected by floods cancelling certain programmes of the state government," he added.
As many as 103 taluks in 22 districts were affected due to floods last month, in which over 80 people were killed. Around seven lakh people were shifted to safe areas and thousands of houses were damaged.
Karnataka has sent a flood damage estimate of Rs 35,160.81 crore to the centre government, and is awaiting relief. Opposition parties in the state have hit out at the BJP governments both at state and Centre for "delay" in relief, despite Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and an inter-ministerial central team visiting affected areas of the state.
Pointing out that already about Rs 2,500 crore has been released by state for reconstruction of roads, bridges and houses, Yediyurappa said per house Rs 5 lakh would be provided for reconstruction, and already Rs 1 lakh has been released for laying foundation.
"We are analysing where there can be savings, in which department money has not been spent, we may use that," he said. The state government hiked the ex-gratia from Rs 3,800 to Rs 10,000 per household, to provide immediate relief to those affected by the floods, providing Rs 6,200 from its exchequer.
The chief minister also clarified that his government will continue with the farm loan waiver scheme announced by the previous government "as it is our duty to do so."
(With inputs from PTI)