BJP’s central leadership keeps CM Basavaraj Bommai on tenterhooks over cabinet expansion in Karnataka
Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai has been under pressure to fill five vacancies in cabinet for months now. Either he has not been able to meet the bosses in Delhi, or was asked to wait
It's just not the ministerial aspirants in the BJP-ruled government in Karnataka who have been kept on tenterhooks by the party's central leadership regarding a much-delayed cabinet expansion or restructuring, but even Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai himself too.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was in Bengaluru on May 3, his second visit there in a span of one month, after spending the entire day with Bommai and Union Law Minister Pralhad Joshi – which included attending a luncheon with senior ministers, MPs and legislators – decided to keep the suspense going.
Bommai has been under pressure to fill five vacancies in the cabinet for months now. Either he has not been able to meet the bosses in Delhi, who give the green signal, or was asked to wait. The new date for the exercise is now said to be around May 10.
Incidentally, Bommai and his cabinet colleague Muresh R Nirani are scheduled to leave on May 20 for the five-day annual meeting of the World Economic Forum to be held in Davos from May 22.
The suspense is not just about the date of the expansion but also whether the party leadership will just opt for filling the five vacancies or go in for a total restructuring of the cabinet, which would mean dropping non-performers and those facing controversies or even a change of leadership itself. According to party sources, the chances of BJP changing Bommai, who is yet to gain acceptability among the BJP legislators, is remote, but not totally ruled out.
Though Shah has endorsed Bommai as the face who would lead the party in the 2023 assembly elections, his tenure has been dogged by controversies and corruption, with BJP legislators upset over his style of functioning.
Bommai has been accused by the Congress of resorting to implementing the saffron agenda by bringing in legislations to check conversions to other faiths, freeing the temples from government control and defending moral policing.
BJP sources said mere filling up of the five vacancies will stir fresh trouble as the list of ministerial aspirants from senior BJP legislators is long. They had to make way for the ‘migrants’ from the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) when B S Yediyurappa formed the government by dislodging H D Kumaraswamy in 2019.
BJP's national general secretary C T Ravi recently ruled out a ‘Gujarat model’ for Karnataka where Vijay Rupani resigned in September 2021 with his cabinet also going out by default a year ahead of the polls. “We have a ‘Karnataka model’,” he added.
In 2008, after BJP formed its first government independently in Karnataka under Yediyurappa, the party saw three chief ministers before the 2013 elections. Yediyurappa had to step down after being indicted in a Lokayukta report on illegal mining in 2011 and was succeeded by his protege D V Sadananda Gowda. The latter had to make way for Jagadish Shettar a year before the assembly polls.
Even as the picture over the cabinet restructuring remains hazy, there are reports of the central leadership also considering a revamp of the state unit from top down. Present state unit president and Dakshina Kannada MP Nalln Kumar Kateel's three year tenure ends in August 2022. Though Kateel is an organisational man and represents the coastal belt which has the highest number of RSS shakhas, the party is said to be looking at the possibility of a Vokkaliga at the helm. Kateel is a Bunt, a backward classes community.
This may be a bid to counter D K Shivakumar, the state Congress unit president, who too is a Vokkaliga.
Names for the post doing the rounds are of Ravi and Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje, who represents Udupi-Chikmagalur Lok Sabha constituency. “Choosing Karandlaje, who rose from the RSS cadre, has some pluses as she is a powerful speaker, has worked with the workers and can bring in the women votes,” sources said.
BJP is also mulling having a campaign committee on the lines of the Congress set up in Karnataka, which is headed by former minister M B Patil, a Lingayat. The BJP will prefer a Lingayat who is a money bag to head the campaign committee and the likelihood of Industries Minister Murugesh R Nirani, said to be close to Shah, being chosen is not ruled out, sources said.