Bengaluru, KARNATAKA: When B.S. Yediyurappa took charge as Karnataka chief minister on 26 July after the fall of the Congress-JD(S) government, the biggest challenges he faced were political: allotting cabinet berths in a way that satisfied as many BJP leaders as possible, and rehoming the 17 disqualified ‘rebel’ Congress-JD(S) MLAs.
But all that is on hold now as the state battles heavy floods that have killed more than 40 people and displaced lakhs.
After camping for two days in the national capital, on August 6 and 7, Yediyurappa flew back to Bengaluru and immediately began a tour of districts in north Karnataka, where he stayed for four days. Since he was sworn in alone, he doesn’t have any ministers to whom he can allocate work.
His preoccupation with the flood rehabilitation operations has put a temporary hold to the lobbying by cabinet berth aspirants. The few voices of dissent have been from the Congress and JD(S), who have alleged that the chief minister is functioning as a one-man army.
While taking off on tours to drought or flood-hit areas is not new for the 76-year-old, the magnitude of the disaster seems to have rattled him. Over the weekend, two union ministers, Amit Shah and Nirmala Sitharaman also visited Belagavi, one of the worst-affected districts.
Briefing the media on August 10 after his North Karnataka tour, Yediyurappa said the state has not encountered such a situation in the last 45 years and that the estimated loss is Rs 6,000 crore.
Who will get what?
Once the rain fury has abated, the new chief minister will have to get back to addressing the brass tacks of administration. He has said that cabinet expansion will only happen after 16 August.
While the composition of the cabinet will have the stamp of the party’s central leadership, the CM will have to dust up the BJP’s manifesto from the May 2018 assembly polls.
Speaking to HuffPost India, BJP state spokesperson Vaman Acharya said the CM’s priorities will be presenting the budget and review of ongoing programmes. In his budget presentation for 2019-2020, Yediyurappa’s predecessor H.D. Kumaraswamy had sought a vote-on-account for four months upto July 31, which has now been extended for another three months. After taking charge, Yediyurappa had directed the heads of all departments to put on hold the decisions taken by Kumaraswamy as care-taker CM in July.
“It’s after many years that Karnataka has the privilege of the same government at the centre and the state. This will help Karnataka in expediting clearances of the projects,” said Acharya.
While it is not out of the normal for new governments to replace officers in the top slots, the transfers and postings made by Yediyurappa in the last 18 days have drawn flak from opposition parties
With cow vigilantism high in the coastal districts, Acharya hinted that the government may repeal the Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964, which governs the slaughter of cattle in Karnataka. In 2010, the Yediyurappa government had brought an amendment to this Act, which was scrapped by the Siddaramaiah government in 2013, restoring the original Act.
The 1964 Act allows slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffaloes, if they are aged above 12 years and are no longer fit for breeding or to yield milk. The BJP government had formed a Commission for Protection and Conservation of Cow and its Progeny in 2012, while the amended Bill was awaiting the President’s assent. The Siddaramaiah government scrapped the Commission and entrusted the task to the Animal Welfare Board.
While it is not out of the normal for new governments to replace officers in the top slots, the transfers and postings made by Yediyurappa in the last 18 days have drawn flak from opposition parties. The biggest example is the replacement of Bengaluru police commissioner Alok Kumar, who had taken charge just a month ago, with Bhaskar Rao.
Soon after the transfer, three audio clips leaked to the media refer to the jockeying for the prestigious police commissioner’s post, and seem to feature a power broker in a telephonic conversation with a police officer of the rank of ADGP, giving details of his meeting with a senior Congress leader in New Delhi. The officer asks whether the power broker has succeeded in convincing the Congress leader to appoint him as the police commissioner. While reports say the conversation dates back around 6 months, HuffPost India could not verify the authenticity of the clips. Rao has now ordered an inquiry into the leaked tapes.
The biggest challenge for Yediyurappa is to take care of the 17 disqualified rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs
KPCC president Dinesh Gundurao has also raised concerns about the BJP government replacing the Indira canteens, started during Siddaramaiah’s regime, with Mukhya Mantri Annapoorna canteens.
While all these administrative decisions will take a while to be announced, the biggest challenge for Yediyurappa is to take care of the 17 disqualified rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs. “They have reposed political trust in us, the BJP has to now ensure they are reelected,” said Acharya.
Even this won’t be an easy task.
According to a senior BJP legislator, if any cabinet berths are left vacant for the disqualified MLAs, it will upset many senior BJP leaders.
“This is a government which has been formed on the political ambitions and compulsions of Yediyurappa. If things don’t work out, the central leadership will pull the plug and go for elections, as the situation is favourable for the party,” he added.