Bangalore:  At the Raj Bhawan in Bangalore, BS Yeddyurappa was conspicuous by his presence – smiling, waving a V sign for victory, clearly the power centre. Conspicuous by their absence were many dissident MLAs of the Jagadish Shettar camp. Sadananda Gowda has been sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Karnataka.

Sadananda Gowda (CM Karnataka)
Sadananda Gowda (CM Karnataka)

Going into that formal taking over of reins in the state, Mr Gowda said he would not “be a puppet CM.” A tall order that – his mentor Mr Yeddyurappa, who hugged him in a Kodak moment, has vowed that he will be back in six months. All the 68 MLAs that voted for Mr Gowda to be CM yesterday, did so because he was picked by Mr Yeddyurappa, who had to resign on Sunday after being accused of corruption and nepotism in the Santosh Hegde report on illegal mining.

The new CM-to-be also said, “my big smile will last for 22 months.”  Sadananda Gowda, 58, will have to work hard to keep that famous grin in place.  His toughest critics lie within his own party, the BJP.

These are the about 55-odd MLAs along with Jagadish Shettar, the man that Mr Gowda defeated in yesterday’s secret ballot by 12 votes to be chosen CM. A majority of them boycotted the swearing-in ceremony. But as Mr Gowda stepped down from the stage, one of the first persons to come up and congratulate him was Ananth Kumar, Mr Yeddyurappa’s rival and the man to whom the BJP’s rebel camp owes allegiance.

It is pertinent that only Mr Gowda was sworn in today; no ministers took oath. Clearly, Mr Gowda’s struggles are all ahead of him.

Gowda’s smile fails to melt rebels

The new CM gave reconciliation and goodwill a shot this morning – he dropped into a breakfast meeting of dissidents organised at the home of Mr Shettar, who lives bang next door.  It was a short walk but a big gesture.  Mr Gowda said he asked Mr Shettar and his camp of 55 MLAs to attend his swearing-in ceremony this evening.

“They are coming,” he said, after his breakfast diplomacy, flashing his smile. With him, wearing a smile too, was Mr Shettar, who was non-committal. He said, “We are discussing yet. We have not made a decision.”

Back inside his house, breakfast stretched to lunch and possibly evening tea. The dissident team did not attend the ceremony, but Shankar Lingaiah Goud, an MLA from the rebel camp, has listed their demands, “We should be given Finance and Home portfolio. Jagadish (Shettar) should also become the Deputy CM.” But a sulking Mr Shettar is said to have rejected the post of Deputy CM. For now.

The 22 months that Mr Gowda has promised to smile through is how long the BJP has before Karnataka votes again. The party is trying to balance caste equations in the state.  Mr Gowda is a Vokkaliga, the second-largest community in Karnataka.  Mr Shettar on the other hand belongs to the Lingayat community which makes up a powerful votebank.

Having the top two communities represented at the highest levels of government would possibly come as close as the BJP can get to keeping everyone happy. “I have seen more turbulence when I was BJP president (in the state),” said Mr Gowda today.

The Yeddyurappa factor

Mr Gowda will have not just the dissent within his party to contend with, but his larger-than-life mentor, BS Yeddyurappa, who delivered the BJP’s first government in the South. He has to battle the universal perception that he is Mr Yeddyurappa’s rubber stamp. Mr Gowda has Mr Yeddyurappa’s approval for now because he is affable, has never taken on Mr Yeddyurappa and is not a Lingayat.  That allows Mr Yeddyurappa to stand as the tallest Lingayat leader in the state.

The dissidents include some big names – there is the BJP president K Eshwarappa, the Home Minister of Karnataka R Ashok and Shettar himself, who is the Rural Development Minister. Add to this power list the names of the Reddy brothers of Bellary, new entrants in this camp.