The BJP may have barely managed to assuage its angry cadre in Karnataka, but now the ministers in the Basavaraj Bommai Cabinet have begun sparring in public.
First in the party and now in government, it has become a “BJP versus BJP” scenario in Karnataka, with ministers demanding the resignation of their Cabinet colleagues.
Following a leaked controversial audio clip — involving Law, Parliamentary Affairs, and Minor Irrigation Minister JC Madhuswamy — going viral and embarrassing the government, Cabinet colleagues like Horticulture Minister Muniratna have demanded his resignation.
Cooperation Minister ST Somashekhar’s public deriding of Madhuswamy soon after the viral audio recording has also left Bommai red-faced, with questions being raised on dissent within his Cabinet.
What is the controversy all about?
At the centre of the controversy is a clipped audio recording, that has now gone viral, where a conversation — purportedly between Madhuswamy and a man introducing himself as Bhaskar, a social worker from Channapatna — takes place about farmers facing difficulties in cooperative banks.
“When farmers take a loan of ₹50,000, the bank officials are automatically deducting Rs 1,300 as renewal fees. They have turned farmers into monkeys,” the activist is heard complaining.
In response, Madhuswamy is heard attempting to convince him of what action he has taken.
“I know this is happening, and I have brought it to the attention of Cooperation Minister ST Somashekhar. We have informed him of bank officials taking cuts and shares and also deducting funds, but he hasn’t taken any action. What am I to do?”
The controversial statement from the minister came when the social worker said, “But this isn’t a good thing.”
Madhuswamy is purportedly heard saying: “The government isn’t functioning. We are just dragging along for the next eight months.”
The clipped audio file has since become fresh ammo in the hands of Opposition parties to ridicule the Basavaraj Bommai government and for baiters of Madhuswamy within the Cabinet to demand his ouster.
Turncoat ministers gang up
Irked by Madhuswamy’s claims that he wasn’t taking action, Somashekhar publicly derided the former.
“The minister who thinks he alone is the most intelligent should break out of that illusion. Did he not know that the government wasn’t functioning when he talked to reporters after every Cabinet meeting? It is perhaps his department that is limping, and not any of the other departments,” an agitated Somashekhar told reporters in Mysuru on Monday, 15 August.
Somashekhar is one among the several turncoat MLAs who defected to the BJP in 2019 leading to the collapse of the HD Kumaraswamy-led Congress-JD(S) coalition government.
Somashekhar’s tirade against Madhuswamy found support among other ministers who joined the BJP in 2019.
“If the government is not working properly, then he, too, is responsible for it as a minister. He should have quit before making such comments. If he is unhappy with the government’s performance, he should resign,” Muniratna, minister for horticulture told reporters on Monday in Kolar. Muniratna joined the BJP from Congress in 2019.
Gopalaiah, another turncoat MLA from the JD(S) and who is now minister for excise, joined the chorus and told reporters that Madhuswamy should not have spoken “so loosely”.
Bickering puts Bommai in a spot
As if the audio clipping, where his own minister was heard writing off his government, wasn’t enough to embarrass him, the public bickering between his Cabinet ministers has put Bommai in a spot.
“I have already spoken to Madhuswamy. His words have been taken out of context. There is no reason to misunderstand it. There is no problem. I will speak to all the ministers and resolve it,” a visibly hassled Bommai told reporters at the Vidhana Soudha — the state secretariat — on Tuesday.
Already under pressure due to protests against his government and party by the BJP’s own cadres over the Praveen Nettaru murder case, Bommai now has an additional headache in the form of his ministers publicly deriding his government and each other.