Ending a long wait, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa expanded his 17-month old cabinet on Wednesday, inducting seven ministers as he also dropped Excise Minister H Nagesh from the ministry.
The exercise led to resentment within Bharatiya Janata Party, with some MLAs expressing serious reservations about MLCs not elected by the people being made Ministers, lack of representation with most ministers still from Bengaluru and Belagavi districts, and also on their 'seniority or sacrifice' not being considered.
The ministers sworn-in were MLAs Umesh Katti (Hukkeri), S Angara (Sullia), Murugesh Nirani (Bilgi) and Arvind Limbavali (Mahadevapura), and MLCs R Shankar, M T B Nagaraj and C P Yogeshwar.
Governor Vajubhai Vala administered the oath of office and secrecy to them at a ceremony at the Raj Bhavan.
Yediyurappa, his cabinet colleagues, BJP leaders and office bearers, including General Secretary in-charge of Karnataka Arun Singh, state unit President Nalin Kumar Kateel, senior officials of the state government, family members and supporters of new ministers, among others were present.
This was the third expansion of the cabinet since Yediyurappa assumed charge in July 2019 after the collapse of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in the wake of revolt by 17 MLAs of the coalition partners.
It's a mix of the old guard and new entrants from Congress and JD-S who made it into the cabinet.
Keeping up his promise, Congress-JD(S) rebels-turned BJP MLCs R Shankar and M T B Nagaraj, who helped the saffron party come to power and also another ruling party MLC Yogeshwar, who is said to have played a key role by managing rebel MLAs during the 2019 political turmoil, were inducted by the CM.
Among the BJP old guard who were inducted were Katti, Angara, Nirani and Limbavali.
While Shankar and Nagaraj had served as Ministers in the previous coalition government from the Congress' side, Yogeshwar, Katti (eight time MLA), Nirani and Limbavali (state BJP Vice President) were Ministers in the erstwhile BJP government.
For Angara (six times MLA), this is his first stint as minister.
Non-inclusion of RR Nagar MLA Munirathana, who had rebelled against Congress and defected to the BJP, came as a surprise as the chief minister had announced during campaigning for the November 2020 bypolls that he would be made minister on being elected.
According to sources,efforts were on till late last night to induct Munirathna into the ministry and the CM is said to have tried to convince the party high command in this regard.
Cases against Munirathna reportedly become the impediment for him to become minister, they said, adding he has been assured of being inducted in the next round of expansion.
Yediyurappa said excise minister Nagesh, who has been dropped from the ministry, has been appointed as Dr B R Ambedkar Development Corporation Chief with cabinet rank, thereby keeping one berth vacant in the state cabinet, which can have a maximum strength of 34 members.
Nagesh, an Independent MLA from Mulbagal who was part of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government, supported the BJP during the political turmoil and went on to become a minister, said after meeting the chief minister that his resignation was voluntary and he would abide by Yediyurappa's decision.
Sources said the decision to drop Nagesh was linked to a complaint by the daughter of an excise department official to the Prime Minister's Office after he allegedly demanded a bribe for her ill father's transfer.
The swearing-in was held three days after Yediyurappa finalised the expansion at a meeting with top BJP leaders, including party chief J P Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi.
Yediyurappa, who had been planning the expansion for several months, was asked by Nadda in November to wait for the clearance from the central leadership.
Of the seven new Ministers inducted on Wednesday, two each are from Veerashaiva-Lingayat, Kuruba and Scheduled Caste communities and one from Vokkaliga community.
In the expanded cabinet with 33 Ministers (dropping Nagesh) the representation from the two dominant communities-Veerashaiva-Lingayat and Vokkaligas are 11 and 7 respectively.
Several party legislators and ministerial aspirants like M P Renukacharya, G H Thippareddy, M Satish Reddy, S A Ramadass among others, expressed strong displeasure over not being considered, with MLCs becoming ministers and lack of adequate regional representation.
With the induction of Limbavali, the cabinet will now have the highest- eight ministers representing Bengaluru, followed by Belgavi 5 with the induction of Katti.
Also, Shankar, Nagaraj and Yogeshwar becoming ministers has taken the number of MLCs in the Ministry to five, with Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi and Muzrai Minister Kota Srinivas Poojari already in the cabinet.
In a direct attack on the CM, Vijayapura City MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who has been critical of him, accused the Chief Minister of making appointments under blackmail without considering seniority or honesty.
"CM has made those who are blackmailing him as ministers. Three people- one political secretary and two ministers, have been blackmailing with some of Yediyurappa's CDs for three months.
"One who has become Minister along with CD blackmail was also involved in payment of money to Vijayendra (CM's son)," he said.
Alleging that the CM and his family have 'hijacked' BJP in Karnataka, Yatnal, who has said that he is not a ministerial aspirant, requested the PM to end dynastic politics by Yediyurappa's family in Karnataka.
"I challenge you (Yediyurappa) ahead of Makara Sankranti that from Uttarayana your (political) end will begin and a new period will start under PM Modi in Karnataka," he said, and demanded the CM's resignation following the high court dismissing his petition seeking quashing of the FIRs against him in an illegal land denotification case.
Yatnal's statement comes despite warnings by the BJP leadership against making statements in public on issues relating to the party and leaders.
Also making a reference to blackmail, Ministerial aspirant and MLC A H Vishwanth, who was among the MLAs from the Congress-JD(S) coalition to resign in 2019 and switched over to BJP, hit out at Yediyurappa for not keeping his promise.