Karnataka: The Yediyurappa Govt’s Survival Chances Just Got A Lot Better

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H.D Kumaraswamy and BS Yediyurappa.

BENGALURU, Karnataka: After months of continuous criticism from two of his predecessors, H.D. Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa can breathe a little easier now.

Judging by the change in Kumaraswamy’s tone, the JD(S) may just be sending out feelers to the BJP to support the government in case the bypoll results for 15 assembly seats in December aren’t favourable to the ruling party. 

After the fall of the Congress-JD(S) government in the state in July, the two former allies have been sniping at each other every chance they get, weakening the possibility of any effective counter to the BJP.

BJP leaders say the ongoing verbal duel between Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy is an advantage to them. 

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“The party cannot openly welcome Kumaraswamy’s feelers to support us as it will reflect our weakness. But it is beneficial to the party as the strained relations between the Congress and JD(S) have peaked to an extent that the JD(S) is more keen on fighting against its former ally than us,” a senior BJP functionary said on condition of anonymity.

From calling Yediyurappa a “weak CM” for failing to get a flood relief package from the centre, Kumaraswamy has taken a U-turn to suddenly praising him for the government’s rehabilitation measures. The JD(S) leader has also said that he will not try to topple the government. When the Congress mocked him for this, Kumaraswamy categorically said that he had not “committed himself” to any party to give support.

The worse-than-expected performance by an over-confident BJP in the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly polls is also likely to prompt the party’s central leadership to give more freedom to Yediyurappa to run his government. Until now, the BJP high command had kept a close eye on the Lingayat  strongman, who rejoined the party in 2014 after quitting it in 2012 over corruption allegations. Just this week, the CM admitted that it was the high command’s decision to induct three deputy chief ministers in the state, though he insisted he had a “free hand” in matters of governance. Reports also say he was asked to reshuffle his secretariat and transfer two top bureaucrats he had handpicked.

But even if he gets more freedom from the top, Yediyurappa will still need to reckon with discord from local leaders who are hoping to get tickets for the upcoming bypolls on 5 December. The Supreme Court’s verdict on the petition filed by the 15 disqualified MLAs is expected on November 4, and if it is in  their favour, Yediyurappa will have to keep his promise of giving tickets to all of them amid opposition from aspirants within the BJP.

He is not likely to face much distraction from either Kumaraswamy or Siddaramaiah, as both leaders are embroiled in power struggles within their  respective parties.  

BJP state spokesperson Vaman Acharya told HuffPost India that Yediyurappa had performed well under constraints. 

“Ours was not a clear majority government technically, but in the last three months the CM has single-handedly managed  the over-seeing of  flood relief work, holding discussions with the 15 disqualified MLAs and on other issues,” he said.

BJP sources told HuffPost India that the party is confident of winning at least 7-8 seats out of 15. The number of MLAs in the Karnataka assembly has dropped to 207  from the total 224 (excluding nominated MLAs). Of the 17 MLAs who  resigned,  bypolls are not being held to two constituencies. After the bypolls, there will be 222 members in the House, so the figure for a working majority government is 112. 

“Our aim is to win 12-13 seats and among these, some MLAs who get elected will be made ministers as there are 16 vacancies yet to be filled in the cabinet,” the sources added.

Kumaraswamy is facing rebellion with at least 17 JD(S) MLAs threatening to quit the party, unhappy with the control exerted by the H.D. Deve Gowda family. As the opposition leader in the legislative  assembly, Siddaramaiah prefers Yediyurappa’s continuance as that will ensure his post in the House. With former minister D.K. Shivakumar out on bail now, Siddaramaiah will have to counter a parallel power centre in the party, as Shivakumar is on good terms with Kumaraswamy. 

Party sources said that while the external risks to Yediyurappa’s post have eased, there is still a significant threat from within. The relationship between  BJP national general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh and Yediyurappa has not been  smooth, with reports that the former has been interfering in  the party’s functioning through his  protégé, state unit president Nalin Kumar Kateel.

With the bypolls being a litmus test for all the political parties in the state, Yediyurappa told reporters recently that he was  confident of completing  his full remaining term of three-and-a-half years as CM. But even though the central leadership made an exception in Yediyurappa’s case of overlooking his age (he is 76, a year above the party’s unofficial retirement age), intervention from  party’s  bosses in Delhi  will continue.

“Intervention by the central leadership has a positive effect.  Some amount of responsibility has to be shared by the  high command and the party government in the state for smooth functioning of things,” said the BJP sources.