A three-day visit to Karnataka by Arun Singh, the new BJP in-charge for the state, over the weekend to review the status of the party and development under the BJP government has not provided Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa much clarity on his efforts to expand the cabinet.
Singh has reportedly told Yediyurappa to carry out the cabinet expansion in consultation with the party’s central leadership.
Last month, Yediyurappa visited Delhi to meet the BJP central leadership on the cabinet expansion issue, but was reportedly advised to consult the new party in-charge for the state.
Yediyurappa is keen to expand the cabinet to fill seven vacancies by appointing many loyalists, including former Congress and JDS legislators who defected to the BJP in 2019, toppling the Congress-JDS government and enabling the BJP to come to power.
The cabinet currently has 10 rebel MLAs. The chief minister backing the rebel MLAs who helped him come to power has been a cause of heartburn among several senior BJP leaders and long-term MLAs.
During his visit, Singh held consultations with state party president Nalin Kumar Kateel and members of the state party executive in Belgaum and Bengaluru for building the party structure in the state on a “pro-development and pro-people platform” instead of “dynastic politics and individualism”, according to BJP sources.
One of the messages that emerged was that the party is not going to replace Yediyurappa as Chief Minister as of now. There has been speculation of the possibility of the BJP replacing him on account of his age — he is 77 — and corruption charges surrounding his family.
During his visit, Singh is learnt to have received complaints from BJP MLAs on Yediyurappa’s “unilateral functioning”.
The BJP in-charge was informed by a key functionary that the Chief Minister did not consult the party while making appointments to boards and corporations and that he appointed people considered to be his loyalists, sources said.
Singh, who had a lunch meeting with Yediyurappa on December 5, is learnt to have told him to take decisions in consultations with the state party unit.
According to BJP observers in Karnataka, Yediyurappa and the central leadership are currently assessing each other’s strength. “The BJP high command is very strong at present and they are assessing Yediyurappa and his support.
Yediyurappa is trying to get into a position where he has full control of the government,” a party source said.
After the BJP central leadership did not respond to his requests for clearing the cabinet expansion, Yediyurappa decided to get his cabinet to clear a move to recommend to the Centre the inclusion of the Lingayat community — to which he belongs — in the central OBC quota category.
On the eve of the cabinet meeting on November 27, Yediyurappa deferred the plan after Home Minister Amit Shah reportedly asked him to avoid making the move.
The move is believed to have been an attempt to warn the party leadership that he enjoys the support of the Lingayat community — a decisive caste block in Karnataka.
In 2012, Yediyurappa split with the BJP and formed Karnataka Janata Party after the BJP leadership pressured him into resigning as Chief Minister amid corruption charges. The move damaged the BJP’s performance in the 2013 state polls.
“The situation is different from 2013. The central leadership is very strong now. It has a lot of firepower to control the situation — even cases that can be opened,” a BJP source said.
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