Bengaluru: The surprise appointment of three Deputy Chief Ministers in the month-old BJP government in Karnataka has sparked a row in the ruling party and drawn sharp criticism from the opposition Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S).
"This is the first time Karnataka has three Deputy CMs in the 34-member ministry in which 16 posts are still vacant. It only indicates the pulls and pressures in the ruling party and the grip its central leadership has over Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa," senior Congress leader V.S. Ugrappa told IANS on Tuesday.
As finalized and directed by the party's high command headed by National President Amit Shah, Yediyurappa has appointed Govind Karjole, C. N. Ashwath Narayan and Laxman Savadi as Deputy Chief Ministers with key portfolios.
Though the remaining 14 ministers were given portfolios with plum posts for some at the expense of others, their seniority or previous experience was ignored in allotting the departments.
"BJP's former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and its former two Deputy CMs, K.S. Eshwarappa and R. Ashoka were overlooked for the Deputy CM's post and key portfolios. Instead, the party's high command has rewarded Narayan, a first-time minister, and Savadi, who lost in the May 2018 state Assembly election from Athani in the state's northwest, ostensibly to keep the 76-year-old Yediyurappa in check if not on leash despite being the party's strong Lingayat leader and popular," said Ugrappa.
Shettar, a Lingayat from Hubballi-Dharwad was BJP's third Chief Minister during its five-year regime (2008-2013) from August 2011 to September 2012. He has been given Large and Medium Industries portfolio though he held revenue and rural development & panchayati raj posts earlier. He was also speaker for two years from 2008-2011.
Narayan belongs to the politically dominant Vokkaliga community and represents the prestigious Malleshwaram Assembly segment in Bengaluru northwest. He holds Higher Education, IT & BT and Science & Technology.
Savadi, a Lingayat like Yediyurappa, has been given Transport. As he is not a member of Assembly or Council, he has to get elected or nominated by the party in the next six months to continue.
"Savadi, who was a cooperation minister in the party's first tenure in the state (2011-12) was forced to resign after he was caught watching a porn clip on his mobile when the Assembly session was underway. On what merits he is in the ministry and made a Deputy CM?" asked JD-S leader Mahesh Babu.
Terming the Cabinet composition and portfolios as unfortunate, Babu said the ruling party had ignored the Other Backward Class (OBC) legislators in making Deputy CM or ministers, barring two (K.S. Eshwarappa and K.S. Poojari), although they (OBCs) constitute 50 per cent of the electorate across the state.
Even in terms of regional representation, many districts in the northern, coastal and southern regions do not have a Cabinet berth in the truncated ministry.
"Being the tallest Lingayat leader, Yediyurappa has made seven more lawmakers from his powerful community ministers, including Savadi as Deputy CM. Where is social justice? The exclusion of more OBCs from the ministry shows the ruling BJP is anti-OBC," alleged Ugrappa.
As the seniormost Deputy CM, Karjole heads Public Works Department (PWD) and Social Welfare Department, while Narayan is in-charge of Higher Education, IT & BT and Science and Technology and Savadi has Transport.
Defending the selection of lawmakers for Cabinet posts and portfolio allocations, state BJP spokesman A. Vaman Acharya told IANS a lot of thought and planning went into the first phase of Cabinet expansion, keeping in view the party's future and the performance of the government over the next three-four years.
"With Yediyurappa serving as the chief minister for the fourth time, and may be, last time as he is 76 years old, our party's high command has made three of our senior ministers Deputy CMs for grooming them for the top post (chief minster) and lead the party in the state and Lok Sabha, as we have a long way to go in consolidating our presence in the southern state," Acharya asserted.
By appointing three Deputy CMs at one go, the party has also sent a strong message to all 17 expelled and disqualified 'rebel' legislators of the Congress and JD-S, whose resignations from their Assembly segments and absence from the Assembly led to the fall of the 14-month coalition government on July 23 after then Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy lost the confidence motion he moved on July 18 in the 10-day monsoon session of the House.
"The fate of the rebels will be known after the Supreme Court decides on their joint petition against their disqualification by former Assembly Speaker (K.R. Ramesh Kumar) for defying their party whip. If their disqualification is rejected, they will be able to contest in the by-elections that will be due in six months after the verdict," added Acharya.