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BSY’s Half Cabinet include Loyalists, Lingayats as well as accused in Porn-gate, Mining Scams (LEAD)

Bengaluru

After holding four Cabinet meetings with himself over the last three weeks, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa finally expanded his Cabinet on Tuesday. The expansion, however, was a limited one — 17 MLAs were sworn in despite a Cabinet strength of 34 being the norm in Karnataka.

The reason for this is simple — Cabinet spots are being kept empty for those MLAs who had brought the previous Janata Dal-Secular (JDS)-Congress coalition government down. Right now, those lawmakers stand disqualified. But without their “help”, the BJP realises it could not have come to power in the first place.

Seventeen lawmakers of the JD(S) and the Congress had resigned from their posts between June and July, bringing down the total strength of the Assembly from 224 to 207, enabling the BJP to attain a majority with its 105 MLAs. The resignations of these rebel MLAs, however, were not processed — the then speaker KR Ramesh Kumar had instead chosen to heed the petitions of the two parties and disqualified them for anti-party activities.

As they cannot be sworn in as ministers when disqualified, the BJP had put off Cabinet expansion until they could challenge the disqualification legally. That challenge is now before the Supreme Court and Yediyurappa waited for more than 25 days for the disqualification to be stayed. However, with the apex court showing no urgency in taking this up, the party decided to go ahead with its limited cabinet expansion on Tuesday after coming under much criticism for running a one-man show until now.

While the BJP had earlier distanced itself from engineering any of these defections, a BJP spokesperson had, two weeks back, admitted that the party was “grateful” to these MLAs for having helped the party come to power and that there is no question of a government without them and hence, the delay.

“At least 12 of them expect ministerial berths. Hence, as far as the BJP’s own MLAs are concerned, this is it. One or two others may be inducted when we go in for the second phase of expansions, but largely, these Cabinet slots are reserved for the disqualified MLAs,” said a newly inducted minister.

Even assuming that the MLAs are not able to get their disqualifications stayed or set aside, the rest of the Cabinet will be kept in abeyance till the MLAs face by-elections again and come back to join the team.

“If we fill even one of those seats, we will lose the MLAs’ confidence that their places are safe in the Cabinet. So we won’t do that until their legal status becomes clear and we can induct them. We may include a couple of other BJP ministers when the second phase happens, but we also always need to keep at least two or three slots empty… That’s always done to keep hopes alive of the aspirants,” the minister told News18.

Team BSY

If the previous Kumaraswamy regime was filled with a majority of Vokkaligas, the Yediyurappa Cabinet (or half Cabinet) is filled with mostly Lingayat faces. This is the community that has backed Yediyurappa maximum in the past and contributes to the BJP’s major vote-share.

Seven of the 17 Ministers are Lingayats, but that is only to be expected says a BJP spokesperson. “Of the 105 MLAs the BJP has, 38 are Lingayats — that’s one-third of our MLAs. So this was expected,” the minister said. However, the most surprising among these is the induction of Laxman Savadi, a BJP leader from Athani in Belagavi, who is not even an MLA.

In fact, Savadi had lost the 2018 Assembly elections to Mahesh Kumathalli. However, Kumathalli is among the disqualified/defecting MLAs. Hence, a by-election in Athani is inevitable. Going by history, it wouldn’t have even been a natural choice for the party, considering that Savadi was among the three ministers who were accused in the ‘porngate’ scandal that hit the BJP eight years ago. In fact, CC Patil, another minister who also allegedly viewing explicit clips on his phone along with Savadi, has also been inducted in Yediyurappa team.

“That is done for other reasons. The party wants to promote other influential faces from that (Mumbai-Karnataka) region,” said a Union minister when asked what prompted the decision to induct a non-MLA. B Sreeramulu, the MLA from the Valmiki community (Scheduled Tribe), who is known for being a close confidante of infamous mining baron Janardhan Reddy and has been named in illegal mining probes, also found place in the Cabinet.

Buzz in the party is that when time comes for by-polls, Kumathalli may be asked to sit out, while Savadi is fielded as the party’s candidate. Kumathalli may be nominated as a member of legislative council instead, while still retaining his minister’s post.

Yediyurappa has also rewarded the two MLAs from Vokkaliga community who were the main facilitators of ‘Operation Kamala’ — Ashwathnarayan and R Ashok. The duo batted from the front in ‘persuading’ these MLAs to move to Mumbai and then guarded them against meeting any of their own party-men.

The chief minsiter’s message is clear — he shows his gratitude generously and doesn’t let down those who placed him in the coveted chair.

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