It is common for opposition party leaders to demand resignations of ruling party ministers. Things, however, are a little different in Karnataka. Here, it is Cabinet ministers who are demanding the resignations of their colleagues.
What used to be shadow boxing and subtle one-upmanship in the Basavaraj Bommai Cabinet in the BJP-ruled state has now turned into a very ugly and public display of divisions.
The public tiff involving Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister JC Madhuswamy and “turncoat” minister trio — Cooperation Minister ST Somashekhar, Horticulture Minister Muniratna and Excise Minister Gopalaiah — is only the most recent example of how all is not well in the Bommai Cabinet.
Political observers as well as those in the BJP insist that there is a clear three-way split in the Cabinet — three factions, if you will — and the divisions are percolating into the organisation as well.
The 3 factions within the Cabinet
One faction is of those rooted in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-BJP ideology and have been rewarded with portfolios for their commitment. The likes of Energy, Kannada and Culture Minister Sunil Kumar, Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh or Home Minister Araga Jnanendra perhaps fall into this category.
Then comes the faction of the “turncoats”.
Deemed “immigrants” in party circles, these ministers jumped ship from the JDS-Congress coalition government in 2019 and joined the BJP, directly contributing to the fall of the HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition government and making way for the BJP to come back to power.
Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar, Agriculture Minister BC Patil, Tourism and Environment Minister Anand Singh, Urban Development Minister Byrathi Basavaraj, Labour Minister Shivaram Hebbar, Municipal Administration Minister MTB Nagaraj, Youth Empowerment and Sericulture Minister Narayana Gowda and the three ministers engaged in the tiff with Madhuswamy comprise this category.
In the 29-member Cabinet, 10 are former JDS and Congress legislators who shifted to the BJP.
The third is a group of ministers who align with the party’s leanings but are driven primarily by personal allegiances to local leaders or constituencies, individual interests, and ambition rooted in the local political scenario.
Revenue Minister R Ashoka, Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani, Higher Education and IT Minister Dr CN Ashwathnarayana perhaps fall into this category.
Ministers like Madhuswamy, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Umesh Katti, who fall in this category, joined the BJP from other parties more than a decade ago.
Ministers miffed with each other
Ever since Bommai took over as chief minister from BS Yediyurappa, more half a dozen senior ministers in his Cabinet have complained of work moving at snail’s pace. Madhuswamy simply said it out loud in public.
“The newcomers have attached themselves to Bommai and get their work done. But experienced ministers like us aren’t able to get files moved even after following up with the chief minister for months. In public events, election campaigns, party meetings and even at his residence, it is the ‘immigrant’ ministers you see surrounding him,” one senior minister told South First.
Many in the party and Cabinet even refer to Health Minister Dr Sudhakar as “super CM” — a moniker to describe his closeness to Bommai and the influence he wields.
Three of the “turncoat” ministers ganging up against Madhuswamy for his comment on ST Somashekhar laid bare the fissures in Bommai Cabinet.
“The newcomer ministers, in my opinion owe allegiance to BS Yediyurappa and even look up to him to protect them since he brought them to the party. The old guard loyalists are committed to Bommai since the central leadership is backing him but that is only as long as the party indicates to them to support him. Bommai has no standing among the third group either,” noted Dr Sandeep Shastri, National Coordinator of Lokniti Network and political analyst.
He added that a purging of the “newcomers” won’t come as a surprise closer to the election in Karnataka.
“Bommai is functioning as per the central leadership’s directions and if need be, the newcomers will be sidelined or denied tickets. Much of the bad name and negative perception the government is getting is because of this group,” Shastri noted.
Divisions run in organisation as well
While Bommai is struggling to keep his Cabinet a united house, differences are seeping in among cadres as well.
Anger against the government and leadership of the party has been simmering for months now. The violent protests against the party leadership by its own cadre after Praveen Nettaru’s murder in Dakshina Kannada in July was only a public display of that simmering anger.
“The cadre is severely disgruntled. It doesn’t feel like our own government is in power. When ministers are fighting among each other, what chances do cadres have to get work done? We are preparing to build the party from scratch when rabble-rousers leave it in pieces,” a former office bearer of BJP Karnataka lamented.
In an election year, the BJP — famed for its highly efficient “election machinery” — functions like clockwork with a united cadre and strong leaders. This time around, with the Assembly election barely months away, the party is struggling to put its house in order.
And before it even firefights dissent in party, ministers land themselves in controversies with their sniping.
Ironically, all this while it was the BJP that used to taunt the Congress in Karnataka over its leadership tussles and supposed lack of unity. The boot is now on the other foot.