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Is The Fire Fighter Losing Steam?

There are some who constantly try to run around and put out the fires wherever and whenever they break out. And, for some reason, it seems to keep happening to one man, BS Yediyurappa, Karnataka’s chief minister.

It is not difficult, really, to imagine him atop a fire engine running from place to place to tackle one crisis after another. If he has not been on the fire engine, he is busy with a smaller fire extinguisher to tackle all kinds of problems that, many a time, his own party men have been creating for him.

Last year, when he took charge on July 26 with a wafer thin majority, Yediyurappa heli-hopped from district to district trying to provide relief in the flood-affected districts, all alone, because the BJP’s central leadership was otherwise busy to let him have a cabinet to assist the chief minister.

And, a cabinet of his choice, like in 2008 when he could afford to dictate terms to the then leadership of LK Advani, was simply out of the question in the present dispensation of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. He had to suffer the ignominy of being saddled with three deputy chief ministers, at least two of whom were not of his choice.

He also had a bigger fire to tackle. He had to reimagine the innovation of 2008, Operation Kamala, to gain a majority in the assembly. Getting 17 Congress and Janata Dal Secular MLAs, who had resigned, and getting them re-elected on a BJP ticket was not an easy task.

“It is true that he was left to fend for himself then. There was not much help from the central leadership,’’ a senior party leader told The Lede on condition of anonymity.

Nevertheless, his fire-fighting abilities were constantly put to test, courtesy the party’s central leadership which spared no opportunity to deliver messages to him and his colleagues that the chief minister was not the ultimate master in the state like he was in his first term between 2008 and 2011.

Pinpricks at various points – whether it be the selection of candidates for the Rajya Sabha elections or the release of flood relief funds to the state have become like the frequent forest fires during summer. The purpose was simply, as one of the leaders mentioned once, “to create trouble” for him.

In short, the first six months of his chief ministership were focussed on stabilising his government. Within just about two months, during which his focus was on preparing the Budget and tackling dissidents who also want to be ministers like the turn-coats, the government landed up managing the disaster called the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is true that he is hands-on in dealing with the pandemic after the numbers went haywire once the national lockdown was lifted. But it is becoming clearer by the day that the government was unable to take advantage of the lockdown to prepare for the influx of positive cases from neighbouring states.

Said a party leader on condition of anonymity: “It is a like a company whose owner has left it to the CEO to run the company. And the CEO doesn’t know what to do. So, the marketing team does what it wants and the essential product is not delivered to the people. In the end, it is the people who are suffering.”

Another leader, who is not a great fan of Yediyurappa, also pointed out in an off-the-record conversation: “What is happening is that even the mistakes that the ministers have been committing are all being quietly pushed on the head of Yediyurappa. He is not the same man who would blow his head off during his first tenure as chief minister and get things done, rightly or wrongly. He has mellowed down and that old grip that he had is not evident.”

Party men point out to the manner in which one deputy chief minister went about claiming that he could interfere in any department and get work done because he held the post. “He does not even realise that the post he holds is not even a Constitutional post that he can oversee other departments. Another deputy chief minister is not to be seen and third one is a quiet worker,” said a party leader.

Party men point out the manner which Yediyurappa reacted to the complaint of a senior IAS officer that for the setting up of the 10,100 bedded COVID Care Centre (CCC), the government would save money by purchasing the beds and other paraphernalia rather than hiring it at a huge cost.

Or for the manner in which he fielded five ministers to respond to the allegation of the Leader of the Opposition and Congress leader Siddaramaiah that Rs 2000 crore out of the Rs 4100 crores had been “pocketed” by ministers and officials in the purchase of equipment like ventilators, masks etc for the battle against the virus.

“The messaging that is going to the people from the government is not at all positive. A few years ago, Yediyurappa would have dealt with it quite differently. He would not have fielded these ministers against a leader like Siddaramaiah. He would have been in the forefront and even made counter charges. This is a very defensive action from the CM,” admitted another leader, on condition of anonymity.

So is there a possibility of an alternative being found for Yediyurappa who is already 77 in a party that retires its leaders at age 75?

“That is the biggest problem of our party. There is no alternative to Yediyurappa. The BJP also needs him because it cannot afford to lose the Lingayat community votes,” said a party worker.

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