BJP MLAs loyal to BS Yedduyurappa come out of the residence of state Rural and Panchayati Raj Minister Jagadish Shettar after a meeting. Image courtesy: Press Trust of India
Two days after nine ministers, loyal to him, quit the Karnataka cabinet, former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has further upped the ante against Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, in a power struggle that is now becoming the Bharatiya Janata Party's biggest nightmare. Mr Yeddyurappa's camp has set a deadline of July 5 to remove Mr Gowda and replace him with Jagadish Shettar, the Rural and Panchayati Raj Minister and Mr Yeddyurappa's preferred choice.
The faction has also released a list of 51 MLAs , who claim to be his supporters and are willing to resign en masse, if Mr Gowda isn't removed.
The move is being seen as a muscle-flexing of sorts by Mr Yeddyurappa in order to pressure the party high command to accede to his demand to replace Mr Gowda with Mr Shettar, a leader who also belongs to his powerful Lingayat community. And he intends to keep up the pressure what with Mr Shettar having met party MLAs and MLCs at his residence in Bangalore today.
"If our neta
Yeddyurappa tells us to resign, we will. Karnataka BJP's soul is Yeddyurappa and there is no doubt about that. If they want to strengthen BJP, we have to move with Yeddyurappa. Yeddyurappa is BJP and we will do anything for BJP and Yeddyurappa," said Sanjay Patil, a Yeddyurappa loyalist.
CM Udasi, one of the ministers who had quit, said, "A huge number had come and simultaneously they have contacted us, they are about to come but because of some problem they are unable to participate. In the meeting today, we discussed what we discussed yesterday and day before and everyone has supported Yeddyurappa and Jagadish Shettar and want them to take the decision."
The development is significant in that it comes just a day ahead of Chief Minister Gowda's meeting with the party's central leadership in New Delhi on Monday.
The Chief Minister was summoned to the capital after the Yeddyurappa camp remained adamant on its 'oust-Gowda' demand. The BJP had, on Saturday, rushed state in-charge Dharmendra Pradhan to Bangalore to diffuse the crisis. Mr Pradhan held a series of meeting with both factions at the party office in Malleswaram. The nine rebel ministers, who met Mr Pradhan for an hour, explained the reasons for their resignations. The party's emissary then met MLAs backing Mr Gowda - only to be told that if the Chief Minister was replaced, then too would resign.
With no signs of its troubles abating, the BJP has now asked all the nine pro-Yeddyurappa ministers to withdraw their resignations. The ministers who handed their resignations to Mr Gowda on Friday are Jagadish Shettar, CM Udasi, Basavaraja Bommai, Murugesh Nirani, V Somanna, Umesh Katti, MP Renukacharya, Revu Naik Belamagi and Raju Gowda. "I ask all nine ministers to withdraw their resignations to pave the way to resolve the leadership issue." Mr Pradhan told reporters before leaving for New Delhi.
The BJP, meanwhile insists, rather unconvincingly, that all is well. "Karnataka issue would get resolved soon. I think everyone has the right to express his/her view points," senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh said. Sources in the party also told NDTV that a decision on a change of guard is likely to be taken after the marriage of party president Nitin Gadkari's son.
But the BJP can barely afford to ignore the current crisis as the resignation of the nine ministers, if accepted, could majorly affect the functioning of the government - its first and only government in the South. It will bring down the strength of the Sadananda Gowda cabinet to 13 ministers - the chief minister is already burdened with 21 portfolios.
Mr Gowda, though, is confident of lasting the full tenure. "We have faced such crisis in the past and we have resolved them successfully. This time also, I am confident we will resolve the crisis. Party central leaders have assured me", he said. His famous smile was firmly in place. Elections are due in Karnataka in less than a year.
Sources say that Mr Yeddyurappa is also apparently not keen on bringing the government down as he is himself facing a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) over corruption charges.
The BJP strongman was forced to step down as chief minister last year after a report by the state's ombudsman indicted him for corruption. He picked Mr Gowda as his successor. But lately, their relationship has soured, with the protege refusing to oblige his one-time mentor by stepping down. Mr Yeddyurappa's woes have grown considerably since the CBI investigation was ordered against him in illegal mining cases.
Mr Yeddyurappa's camp - he claims he has the support of 70 MLAs (more than half of the BJP's total strength in the Assembly) - insist they want a change in leadership and have been demanding a legislature party meeting, which has not been called yet. While they initially demanded his reinstatement as the chief minister, it changed some months ago to Mr Shettar. The BJP, though, has so far refused to oblige.