AFTER EXCISE Minister MP Renukacharya joined BS Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) in March, it seems likely that three more ministers in the BJP government in the state will leave the party to join the KJP this week. This will be a serious blow to the BJP’s state unit as it comes at a time when the party is still reeling from its poor performance in the urban local body elections held last month.
Renaukacharya, who represents the Honnali Assembly constituency in Davangare district, was sacked after his controversial remarks against former chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda, and that forced him to join the KJP. Now speculation is rife of the possible desertion of Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani, Irrigation Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Agriculture Minister Umesh V Katti from the BJP to join Yeddyurappa’s party.
All the three ministers belong to the dominant Lingayat caste and their political constituencies are located in the northern part of the state, where the Lingayats wield considerable political influence. And that is also where an electoral showdown between the KJP and the BJP is expected to take place.
In this Lingayat-dominated region, the party that fields Nirani, Bommai and Katti as candidates in the 5 May Assembly elections may have a clear advantage.
Close associates of Yeddyurappa, all three were expected to join him after he left the BJP along with 13 other MLAs to form his own party this January. However, political and economic considerations made them choose to stay with the ruling party till they finish their terms.
There was a buzz in the political circles that they would be quitting the party to join the KJP once the dates of the Assembly election was announced, but hectic parleys by state and central BJP leaders managed to delay the move. It is learnt that Nirani has already informed Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar about his decision.
While the KJP is hopeful that Nirani will join them on 4 April at a party event in Jamkhandi in Bagalkot district, sources in the party say that “the others are still weighing their options”.
The BJP is particularly keen to stop Katti from taking the plunge, say party sources, as his quitting would urge others close to him to follow suit. Also, Katti hails from Hukkeri taluk of Belgaum district (559 km from Bengaluru), where the BJP had got its best seat tally (11 out of 18) in the 2008 election, second only to the Bengaluru region. “Not only will the ministers leaving the party create a vacuum in their respective constituencies, making it difficult for the party to find alternative candidates, but it may also lead to a serious electoral setback and a general loss of strength,” says a source in the BJP.
However, state BJP President Prahlad Joshi told TEHELKA, “There is no question of the three ministers leaving the party. These are speculations spread by the Opposition.” The ministers were unavailable for comment.