The BJP’s first government in the south has arguably had the most controversial cabinet. When Ramachandra Gowda, the medical education minister, resigned last weekend following a huge recruitment scam in the Mysore and Hassan medical colleges, he was the seventh minister to go in the two-and-a-half years that the BJP has been in power in Karnataka. Interestingly, of the 29 sitting ministers, except chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, 13 have either had a questionable moment or face grave charges.
Here’s a quick reckoning of the ministers and their contentious acts: The Bellary trio of Janardhan Reddy, Karunakar Reddy and B. Sriramulu, accused of illegal mining, have consistently topped the charts. They almost toppled the CM In November 2009; the government was saved after a compromise was worked out and the minister ‘closest’ to the CM, Shobha Karandlaje, quit.
In the last couple of months, prisons minister Umesh Katti has had a slanging match with governor H.R. Bharadwaj over the unprecedented number of life convicts (594) he has recommended for release. Katti, like his cabinet colleagues Balachandra Jharkiholi, Anand Asnotikar and Shivanna Gowda Naik, had been poached by the BJP from the JD(S) and Congress to give its government numerical stability. These ministers continue to cause heartburn among BJP old-timers.
Recently, D. Sudhakar, an independent MLA in the cabinet, was stripped of the social welfare portfolio after he adopted a casual approach to the 23 deaths in a beggars’ rehabilitation centre in Bangalore. More importantly, Sudhakar is facing a CBI inquiry for allegedly defrauding a PSU bank. Sudhakar is now in charge of the Muzrai department, earlier held by another controversial minister, Krishnaiah Shetty, who quit over allegations of a land scam in June 2009.
This June, ports minister J. Krishna Palemar triggered the resignation of Lokayukta Santosh Hegde when he recommended the suspension of a ‘whistle-blower’ official after iron ore went missing from Karwar’s Belekeri port. Interestingly, while excise minister Renukacharya, who was charged with sexually harassing a nurse, was inducted into the cabinet in December 2009 to placate a set of rebel MLAs, food and civil supplies minister Hartal Halappa had to quit the cabinet after he was accused of rape in May this year. He was arrested later.
A few weeks ago, labour minister Bachche Gowda was embroiled in a case of road rage. He beat up the family of a businessman whose car overtook his official vehicle. There was public outrage, but the minister refused to apologise. When it became ugly, the chief minister had to plead ‘sorry’ on his minister’s behalf. Yediyurappa is expected to reshuffle his cabinet sometime later this month. It is believed that besides Shobha, he plans to bring back V. Somanna and S.K. Belubbi, two ministers who had earlier quit his cabinet. Somanna, who had crossed over from the Congress, had resigned after he lost the bypoll and Belubbi had been dropped to accommodate Katti, who had deserted the JD(S).
The CM, who is travelling in China, was not available for a comment, but a senior BJP leader said that the CM’s compulsions were “worse than that of a coalition government”. Ramachandra Gowda, who thinks he has been unfairly treated, said he would be “embarrassing” his government if he commented on his cabinet colleagues. However, Opposition leader Siddaramaiah chose to dub Yediyurappa’s cabinet as the most “disgraceful” he had seen in his political career. “They bring shame not only to themselves, but to the state as well,” he said.