Bangalore: The monsoon may be playing truant in Karnataka, hit by drought last year too, but the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has become a fertile ground for factions to sprout by the day. Now, state BJP chief K S Eshwarappa says that several party lawmakers, including ministers, want him to take over as chief minister from the incumbent D V Sadananda Gowda, who is already facing threat from his scam-hit predecessor B S Yeddyurappa.
"There is talk here and there from our party legislators that the chief minister will be replaced soon, though I have not heard anything on the issue from our central leaders. Some of our ministers and legislators have asked me to take over. I will go by the decision of our central leaders," Eshwarappa said on Tuesday, sending the Gowda and Yeddyurappa factions into a tizzy.
This is the first time that Eshwarappa has publicly indicated that he is willing to join the race to replace Gowda, who took over from Yeddyurappa only last August. Though Gowda was handpicked by Yeddyurappa to succeed him, the two have fallen out. As his attempts to return as chief minister have been stymied by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into mining bribery charges against him, Yeddyurappa as well as his loyalists are pushing to replace Gowda with Rural Development Minister Jagadish Shettar.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has become a fertile ground for factions to sprout by the day.
Shettar had lost to Gowda in the elections held last August to succeed Yeddyurappa, the BJP's first chief minister in Karnataka.
Eshwarappa's virtual entry into the battle for the chief minister's post has come amid strong expectations in the Yeddyurappa camp that BJP central leaders have made up their mind to remove Gowda. "There will be sweet news in the first week of July. All problems will be solved by June end," asserted Housing Minister V. Somanna, a staunch loyalist of Yeddyurappa.
State BJP leaders are expecting Dharmendra Pradhan, party general secretary in-charge of Karnataka affairs, to be in Bangalore in the next few days to meet party legislators on the most acceptable candidate to succeed Gowda. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley is also expected to arrive here once Pradhan completes the exercise to oversee the leadership change. The change will be a messy affair as Gowda is under pressure by a group of ministers and lawmakers to resist his removal.
Municipalities and Local Bodies Minister Balachandra Jarakiholi, who is leading this group, says that he and his supporters will resign from the assembly if Gowda is replaced. He claims the group has around 15 members, enough to bring down the government as BJP has 120 members in the 225-member assembly. "You need support of 113 members in the house to form the government but only 13 to bring it down. We have that number and we will submit our resignation directly to the speaker," he has been threatening.
The latest round in the leadership tussle has come at a bad time for BJP central leaders as presidential polls are due next month. If they fail to resolve the issue, the BJP may well suffer the embarrassment of some of its Karnataka legislators voting for United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pranab Mukherjee and not P.A. Sangma, backed by their party.
The party suffered such a fate June 11 with 12 of its assembly members voting in favour of an independent candidate in the elections to the legislative council. The cross voting meant two of the party candidates winning the elections with the help of second preference votes.
The presidential poll, like the legislative council poll, is by secret ballot. With little possibility of finding out the cross voters, lawmakers loyal to various factions in the state unit may well repeat the show to leave the party red-faced.