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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

EC’s decision to defer Karnataka bypolls offers Yediyurappa little respite

The by-elections are being held for 15 seats after rebels from the previous Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government were disqualified for helping oust the alliance from power.

india Updated: Sep 29, 2019 22:16 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa’s two months in charge have proved to be turbulent.
Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa’s two months in charge have proved to be turbulent. (ANI PHOTO.)
         

The Election Commission’s decision to defer the by-elections to 15 seats in the state to December 5 was expected to bring some respite for chief minister BS Yediyurappa. However, going by the anger expressed by leaders from his party over the past few days, that seems to be far from reality.

The by-elections are being held for 15 seats after rebels from the previous Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government were disqualified for helping oust the alliance from power.

However, Yediyurappa’s two months in charge as chief minister have proved to be equally turbulent as the tenure of former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy during his 14-month tenure. In just the past week, Yediyurappa has faced three inter-linked challenges, the solutions to which he will have to find soon if he is to stabilize his grip on power.

The first challenge is to balance the competing ambitions of the disqualified former MLAs and leaders from his own party, who lost to the rebels. Being obliged to the rebels for the government, as leaders acknowledge that there would be no BJP government if not for the rebels’ “help”, the BJP has decided to field either them or their family members in the 15 constituencies.

This has led to expected backlash from leaders in the BJP, who had unsuccessfully contested from these constituencies. In the Hirekerur seat, especially, there has been considerable heartburn considering the margin of defeat was just over 500 votes.

In another seat in Hoskote, BJP MP BN Bachegowda’s son Sharath has threatened to contest as an Independent candidate, if the party gives the seat to rebel former Congress MLA MTB Nagaraj.

Then there are the problems Yediyurappa is facing because of his decisions while in power. For instance, the government’s decision to refer a proposal to bifurcate Ballari district has run afoul of the powerful Reddy brothers, who hail from Ballari and their close associate B Sreeramulu, who is the health minister in Yediyurappa’s Cabinet.

G Somashekhar Reddy told reporters on Saturday that if the government were to take decisions based only on the petition of a rebel leader then they too might have to threaten to quit. In his resignation letter as MLA, former MLA B Anand Singh had cited the lack of enthusiasm for his bifurcation plan as one reason for withdrawing support to the coalition government.

Speaking to reporters, Reddy said, “If he quit because of that issue, what if we threaten to quit? The chief minister has to take all our opinions,” he said. “In fact, the BJP MLAs’ opinion is that the district should not be divided,” he added.

Sreeramulu, too, said he would oppose the move. “The chief minister has just asked for this to be brought before the Cabinet. I will put forth my opinion there. Personally, we have all grown up thinking of Ballari as a single district and there is no need to bifurcate it, as other districts have shown that this is no answer,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government has faced the anger of the opposition Congress and JD(S) for shifting the winter session of the Assembly, to begin from October 10, to Bengaluru. The winter session is annually held in Belagavi.

The government has justified the move saying it was done in view of the rehabilitation work required in the northern district that was devastated by floods and heavy rains last month. However, the opposition has sought to capitalize on the issue and highlight the government’s alleged failure to provide relief by insisting that

it was all the more important for the government to hold the session in the northern district to better address the situation.

Yediyurappa’s inability to get meetings with top leaders of his party has given the opposition added ammunition to attack him. Kumaraswamy tweeted recently that he was willing to accompany Yediyurappa in an all-party delegation if the BJP state leaders did not have the courage to seek an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to press for release of funds immediately towards rehabilitation in the state.

Thirdly, the party’s new state president Nalin Kumar Kateel’s decision to rehabilitate many Yediyurappa dissidents in the party fold has also sparked rumours of the chief minister’s diminishing hold in his party.

Indeed, when a delegation of Vokkaliga leaders approached Yediyurappa on Friday asking him to ensure a leader from the community was made Bengaluru mayor, Yediyurappa said, “The decision will be taken in consultation with everyone... the decision is taken by the state president... I will forward your plea to him... you meet Nalin Kumar Kateel, I will also tell him,” he said.

BJP ministers close to the chief minister expressed surprise at his comments, saying it was hard to believe that this was the Yediyurappa of old. “I don’t think the Yediyurappa of old would have said such a thing. One can understand if he said he had to consult the national party president, not this,” he said.

Through these two months, Yediyurappa has also had to deal with barbs from within the party. A sample of this was given on Saturday by state rural development minister KS Eshwarappa, who said that no leader, neither Siddaramaiah nor Yediyurappa, could do much by themselves and that the party was supreme.

One BJP leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the decision on fielding the rebels had already been taken and there was no changing that.

“Everything else will fall in place once the rebels win the elections and the party retains power. There will be no dissidence then,” he said.

First Published: Sep 29, 2019 22:15 IST

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