After a tough battle through ballot that exposed the deep factionalism in the state BJP, DV Sadananda Gowda was appointed CM and invited to form government by Karnataka Governor HR Bharadwaj on Wednesday evening. The new CM and his cabinet will be sworn in on Friday, August 5. And there is already talk that party dissidents opposed to him might boycott that ceremony.
Earlier in the day, the BJP’s MLAs voted for Mr Gowda, who is a Lok Sabha MP, through secret ballot at a legislature party meeting held at Bangalore’s Capitol Hotel. Senior BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh supervised the voting, necessitated by one BJP camp opposed to Mr Yeddyurappa wanting its own candidate to be CM.
Mr Gowda polled over 68 votes to beat Jagdish Shettar of the Ananth Kumar camp. Of the 121 BJP MLAs, 118 voted. The affable Mr Gowda, known to ever smile, is widely seen as a proxy candidate for Mr Yeddyurappa, who had to step down on Sunday, but has declared that he shall be back within six months. Mr Gowda has never been a minister and so is yet to demonstrate key administrative skills. But he has played an important role in Karnataka politics, has been state BJP president and also a deputy leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.
Mr Gowda’s first statement after being chosen was a measured one, of little political significance. He thanked the central observers and “promised a pro-development and people-friendly government.”
BS Yeddyurappa: Super-Chief Minister?
Mr Yeddyurappa had quit as Karnataka Chief Minister reluctantly, days after the Santosh Hegde report on illegal mining severely indicted him and his family. His resignation was accompanied by the usual political drama – clinging to the chair till he could, then picking a propitious time to resign and finally, a massive show of strength as he walked in the rain to the Raj Bhawan flanked by his 70 MLAs.
In all that, Mr Yeddyurappa also made clear that while he was acceding to party wishes that he quit, only a person of his choice should be his successor – he had given the party high command a list of three leaders, one of whom he wanted as CM. Mr Gowda, one of them.
Mr Yuddyurappa also insisted that he should have a say in picking at least 50% of the new Cabinet. BJP leader Dhananjaya Kumar said today that all ministers named in the Hegde report, including the powerful Reddy brothers of Bellary, would have to step down till cleared of charges against them.
Caste equations, which matter much, too were at the heart of this fight for the top position. Mr Yeddyurappa belongs to the powerful and dominant Lingayat community which has a huge 18% vote in Karnataka. The Ananth Kumar camp, it is believed, wanted Jagdish Shettar, also a Lingayat, to be CM to neutralise Mr Yeddyurappa’s indubitable influence. On the other side, the Yeddyurappa camp was pushing for Sadananda Gowda, who is a Vokkaliga, another dominant community. Gowda in the saddle means that Mr Yeddyurappa remains the Lingayat strongman.
Now, with a Vokkaliga leader set to be CM, Karnataka watchers have wondered aloud if the BJP will get in a Lingayat Deputy Chief Minister, perhaps even Mr Shettar. There has been no mention of that from the BJP yet though.
Deep factionalism in BJP
The immediate battle – that of finding a new Chief Minister is behind the BJP. But a war is on – between rival political centres in the party’s state unit. There are reports that dissidents might boycott the new CM’s swearing in. MLA Balachandra Jarakehodi, who owes allegiance to the Ananth Kumar camp, said, “We are meeting at Jagadish Shettar’s house tomorrow.”‘
A boycott will mean huge embarrassment for the party leadership already struggling to keep matters under control in the only Southern state it rules.
Today’s meeting began late as the central leaders attempted to find a consensus on one name. MLAs arriving at the hotel in buses, cheering loudly for Mr Yeddyurappa – he claimed he had the support of over 70. Another lot showed up brandishing the Victory sign – they were part of the camp of about 50 MLAs led by Ananth Kumar. Each leader sought to convince the central leaders that his man be the next CM.
So divided is the BJP at the moment that there were differences even in the way the two camps wanted the voting done – the Yeddyurappa camp wanted open voting while the Ananth Kumar camp favoured the secret ballot.
But for Mr Yeddyurappa, who was dealt a blow in the morning when the state Governor allowed his prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Mr Gowda’s selection affords a smile.