The joys and agonies of a ministry expansion
The Yedyurappa Council of Ministers will finally expand later today! In what has been a tantalizing hide and seek for several months, the Ministry will have seven new incumbents. One minister (Excise Minister Nagesh) is expected to resign thus resulting in one more vacancy. The carrot of one slot has often been used by the leadership to keep the hopefuls waiting in anticipation and preventing them from rebelling! In the past, Karnataka has often noticed that reshuffle of the Ministry has often opened the floodgates of rebellion.
In the late 1980s Bommai's government collapsed soon after the expansion of the Council of Ministers. Between 2008 and 2013, the BJP government under three different Chief Ministers faced serious internal rebellions before and after the reshuffling of the ministerial pack. Chief Minister Yedyurappa finds himself in a truly unenviable situation.
The threat of dissidence looms large without a Cabinet expansion....the fear of a possible rebellion is very much apparent after the expansion! With the Chief Minister being able to have only a 34 member Council of Ministers and with nearly every ruling party legislator seeing themselves as potential ministers, a Ministry expansion and reshuffle is a double edged sword - creates headaches and ill-will if not undertaken and has the potential to trigger off a new wave of dissidence once completed.
The Chief Minister has preferred the route of transparency and announced the seven names to be included as Ministers well in advance. Four of those joining are those who have been with the party for many years.
Three of those accommodated include the legislators who resigned to switch sides and one is a Legislative Council member who lost the Assembly elections. Umesh Katti was seen as a definite entrant. The Chief Minister had, during the last expansion, made it clear that Katti should have been included the last time around. Angara is among the longest serving MLA's having won the Sullia Murgesh Nirani is an influential Lingayat leader from Bagalkot in Northern Karnataka and had served as Industry Minister when the BJP was in power from 2008-13.
Arvind Limbavalli's name was doing the rounds for quite some time but given the over-representation of Bengaluru city in the Council of Ministers it was anticipated that there would not be any new entrants from Bengaluru. His critical role in the party and his involvement in the frontal organisations connected to the BJP could have been a key factor that went in his favour.
MTB Nagaraj was expected to be included as he had resigned as a Congress MLA, contested and lost and then got elected to the Council. Similarly, R Shankar had also resigned as an MLA and been convinced not to contest the by-election and elected to the Council. Both had been promised Ministerial berths for having played their role in the collapse of the Congress-JD(S) government. The inclusion of C P Yogeshwar will surely cause a lot of heart-burn both among the party loyalists and the new entrants. One would recall that the last time around, in the Cabinet expansion the central leadership of the party did not approve the induction of anyone other than the Congress/JD(S) MLA's who had resigned and returned to the Assembly on the BJP ticket, simply because of the dissidence on including Yogeshwar.
The Chief Minister appears to have secured the consent of the central leadership on this key issue, especially in the light of his role in the facilitating the resignation of some of the key Congress/ JDS MLAs.
The expansion of the ministry is likely to cause a new round of dissidence and rebellion. There are already reports of a few senior leaders who were hoping to become Ministers raising the banner of revolt. Muniratna becomes the second MLA, who crossed over, won the election but has not been accommodated in the Ministry. The fact that his inclusion would have increased the quota of Bengaluru city could have been a factor.
It may also be important to recall that in the by-election there was a debate within the party whether he should be given the ticket and the issue was finally resolved in his favour at the last minute. There would be many among the party loyalists who would be unhappy with the composition of the Ministry and the party leadership would fervently hope that the one seat left could be held out as the bait to prevent any rebellion. Yet one has seen history repeating itself and it will be interesting to see whether the expansion of the Ministry quells or further fuels dissidence. When there are too many claimants to a limited number of pieces of the cake, this is bound to be the challenge!
(Dr Sandeep Shastri is a keen student and observer of Karnataka politics)