When BJP politician Madhu Swamy joined the Karnataka cabinet today, he fell prey to a rather embarrassing slip of the tongue. He initially took oath as the mukhya mantri, or chief minister, instead of mantri, which just means minister.
However, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa -- visibly happy at seeing his cabinet take shape three weeks after taking oath on July 26 -- only smiled and hugged Mr Swamy. He had been at the receiving end of jibes from the opposition for days now, with the Congress even citing the lack of a state cabinet to mock the BJP's motto of "minimum government".
Seventeen MLAs were sworn in by Governor Vajubhai Vala this morning. Among those who made the cut were B Sreeramulu, a politician close to the controversial Reddy brothers of Ballari; CT Ravi, who is known for his right-wing views; former state president KS Eshwarappa; and former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar. Nippani MLA Jolle Shashikala Annasaheb was the only woman to be inducted in this round of the cabinet expansion.
Other senior politicians inducted in the cabinet were former ministers R Ashok, Suresh Kumar and Basavaraj Bommai.
BS Yediyurappa had to wait nearly three weeks for the party leadership's nod to expand the cabinet. The first time he met BJP chief Amit Shah with such a request, he was told to focus on flood relief instead at a time when Karnataka was facing heavy loss to life and property due to the raging monsoon.
Scathing criticism from the opposition did not make things any easier. "Is this what the BJP means by 'minimum government'? A cabinet without cabinet ministers? Will @BSYBJP wake up and stop our state from being mocked across the country?" the Congress had mocked BS Yediyurappa in a tweet last week.
Some cabinet berths were left empty, as has become the practice now, possibly to stave off rebellion from those not in the list. In this case, it seems aimed at giving hope to the remaining BJP MLAs as well as former Congress and Janata Dal Secular leaders who were disqualified for their role in bringing down the previous coalition government headed by HD Kumaraswamy.
However, the first strains of dissent have already started emerging. Chitradurga MLA Thippa Reddy claimed that he deserved a berth in the state cabinet, given that he is a veteran politician with a string of electoral victories to his credit. "I have been in politics since 1969. I have won six times from this constituency as an independent and later as a BJP candidate as well. Whenever I won, it was with a thumping majority for the BJP. Nobody from my district has become a minister so far... I am heading to Bengaluru where I will meet all senior leaders - and secular leaders as well - to decide my future course of action," he said.