Free for all in Karnataka BJP, government (Letter from Bangalore)

Bangalore, Nov 15 (Inditop.com) It’s free for all in Karnataka’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the state government even though it just about survived a dissident assault to unseat Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa.

One of the first actions of dissident leader and Tourism and Infrastructure Minister G. Janardhana Reddy, after BJP senior leader Sushma Swaraj announced an end to the Karnataka crisis Nov 8, was to revive a controversial proposal for a high speed rail link (HSRL) from Bangalore city centre to the international airport, 35 km away.

The Rs.3,700 crore (Rs.37 billion/$801 million) HSRL had been shot down on cost considerations by a panel set up by Yeddyurappa.

The panel, ABIDe — Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development Task Force — favoured a Metro rail link to the airport at Devanahalli.

ABIDe is headed Rajya Sabha MP and businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar. His appointment to supervise flood relief in north Karnataka was seen by the Reddy brothers as an affront to them. The Reddy brothers are mining magnates from Bellary, about 400 km from here, and are trying to expand their influence in north Karnataka. They have contributed and raised funds from other iron ore mine owners for flood rehabilitation.

Janardhana Reddy told reporters Nov 10: “We will issue global tenders (for HSRL) within a week. If all goes well, within a month work will start.”

On Nov 7, Capt. G.R. Gopinath, pioneer of low-cost aviation, was removed as head of another panel set up by Yeddyurappa — Infrastructure Vision Group — without assigning any reason. He had favoured HSRL.

The Reddys continue to get officials of their choice to serve in the districts in which they have influence and in their loyalists’ ministries.

They have already got the deputy commissioners of their liking for Bellary as well as the neighbouring Gadag district, whose affairs are supervised by their loyalist, Health Minister B. Sriramulu.

On Friday, they succeeded in shifting Health Secretary Madan Gopal. He had been posted there by Yeddyurappa Oct 28, at the height of the Reddy brothers’ campaign to remove him, after shunting out I.R. Perumal, who was Sriramulu’s choice.

The Reddys, Yeddyurappa and the state BJP chief D.V. Sadananda Gowda have been making wildly differing statements on whether the crisis has ended and whether there would be a major cabinet reshuffle as part of the compromise worked out by Sushma Swaraj.

The senior Reddy brother, Karunakara, has been comparing the situation to a half-completed cinema. “It is interval now. We are looking for a good director to complete it,” he has been saying while touring flood-hit areas.

Sadananda Gowda told reporters in Bangalore Thursday that there won’t be any major cabinet changes. “With the inclusion of Speaker Jagadish Shettar into the cabinet, all the points of the compromise formula will be implemented,” he asserted.

Shettar, a prominent BJP leader from the north Karnataka town of Hubli, was projected by the Reddys as an alternative to Yeddyurappa. He is quitting as speaker in a day or two to join the cabinet.

Having already got the chief minister’s loyalist Shobha Karandlaje to resign from the ministry, Shettar and the Reddys are reported to be insisting that Yeddyurappa drop at least six more ministers close to him and accommodate their followers instead.

While Sadananda Gowda has denied more ministers would be shown the door, Yeddyurappa has been making ambivalent statements.

On Thursday he said no minister would be dropped. Within 24 hours he changed the stand to say central leaders would decide the issue.

Apart from dropping Karandlaje, Yeddyurappa has also been forced to shunt out his principal secretary V.P. Baligar.

The BJP’s central leadership decided to set up a coordination committee to take care of future intra-party squabbles, but there is no convergence of views on its role either.

Yeddyurappa has claimed it will be an advisory body. The Reddys insist its word would be final on all matters concerning the party’s state unit and its government.