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Political tensions stare at Karnataka govt as Covid subsides

Bengaluru: The calming of the Covid-19 crisis is likely to make way for resurgence of simmering political tensions in the state of Karnataka, according to people aware of the developments, who hinted at imminent changes within the B S Yediyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government
By Sharan Poovanna
PUBLISHED ON MAY 24, 2021 12:28 AM IST

Bengaluru: The calming of the Covid-19 crisis is likely to make way for resurgence of simmering political tensions in the state of Karnataka, according to people aware of the developments, who hinted at imminent changes within the B S Yediyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

The persons cited above also suggested the possibility of a change in leadership, a topic that has lived through several news cycles ever since the 78-year-old leader assumed the chief minister’s role in July 2019.

“Both corona (Covid-19) and by-election results have become a problem for those at the top,” a three-time BJP legislator from Karnataka said, requesting not to be named.

Although Yediyurappa did see some success initially, his government came under fire in recent times over the management — or lack of it — of the pandemic from opposition parties, public and its own party in which its image and perception have taken a strong beating, people aware of the developments said.

The theory that the BJP does not have a credible replacement for Yediyurappa or the support he enjoys from the Lingayat community, believed to be the single-largest caste group in Karnataka, has withered away with names of persons like Pralhad Joshi being mooted as possible alternatives.

The chief minister has also spent a considerable amount of time dousing one crisis after another within his own cabinet to help assuage dented egos of his council of ministers, the persons cited above added.

Ever since the pandemic broke out, Yediyurappa’s first biggest task in late March last year was to calm growing tensions between then health minister B Sreeramulu and Dr K Sudhakar, who only had the medical education portfolio then, in which the latter prevailed. However, since then, Sudhakar has also seen his position diluted further and has had his wings clipped, people aware of the developments said.

Yediyurappa has changed the head of the state’s task force at least three times with Dr C N Ashwath Narayan now helming affairs. Narayan was made incharge of medicines, Basvaraj Bommai and R Ashok in charge of managing hospital beds, Jagadish Shettar to manage oxygen supplies and Arvind Limbavali handle call centres and war rooms, leaving little for Sudhakar to do.

“The final step of implementation goes to the health ministry itself,” a senior party leader said, trying to downplay the alleged marginalising of Sudhakar.

Like all his stints in the top chair, Yediyurappa’s fourth tenure as chief minister has been a turbulent one wherein the 78-year-old spent more time tackling the mushrooming political crisis over the pandemic.

“Not that there is any lack of capability but there were some issues with the way in which some of them worked,” a minister said, requesting not to be named.

The allegations of “bribe-for-bed scam” by Bengaluru Member of Parliament, Tejaswi Surya, was also considered as one of the instances of the party targeting its tallest leader in the state.

The relations between Yediyurappa and the BJP’s top brass in Delhi too has soured over the last few months, people aware of the developments said, making it harder for the chief minister to manage the expectations of the population who were, during the 2018 and 2019 elections, made to believe that a common party in state and Centre would be beneficial to the state. But awaiting relief for floods, droughts and even aid during the pandemic from Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Centre has added to the challenges of the chief minister.

Though rebel voices like that of Basanagouda Patil (Yatnal), the firebrand BJP legislator from Bijapur (Vijayapura), appears to have fallen silent over the last few weeks, lack of action against him has bolstered several others to voice their concerns in candid conversation, if not in full public view.

No action has been taken against Yatnal so far despite a show-cause notice issued to him in February, according to the party.

“There were some initial problems but everything is fine now and there is nothing to state that there will be a change in leadership,” a BJP legislator and spokesperson for the party said on condition of anonymity.

The most noticeable disgruntlement is directed towards B Y Vijayendra, the son of the chief minister, who has been accused of running a parallel administration under his fathers aegis.

After aiding in two by-poll victories in KR Pete and Sira, the loss at Maski in which turncoat Pratapgouda Patil of the BJP was defeated served as a set back to his political debut. Vijayendra, who enjoys significant clout within the government, is also the state BJP vice-president.

“It appears as though imminent decisions are being rescheduled due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” A Narayana, political analyst and faculty at Azim Premji University, told Hindustan Times.

He added that there seems to be indications that some kind of ground is being prepared for significant changes, even though it was not being done in a straightforward manner.

Legislators and analysts pointed out that by this time next year, Karnataka would be in full poll mode for the 2023 assembly elections.

“The longer it takes for them to replace, it may get more expensive,” Narayana added.

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