Bangalore, May 5 (IANS) The Karnataka assembly elections are less than a year away and an increasing number of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators are getting restive, not over the party ticket but over missing a ministerial seat in the party's first term in power in the state.
Eleven berths in the cabinet of Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda are vacant, seven of them since he took over from scam-hit party colleague B.S. Yeddyurappa in August last year and four from February this year.
Karnataka can have a 34-member council of ministers including the chief minister as the assembly strength is 225, including one nominated member. The law stipulates that the number of ministers should not exceed 15 percent of the assembly strength.
Full cabinet formation has not been possible for the BJP as the state unit is faction-ridden, mainly into pro- and anti-Yeddyurappa groups. There is also friction between newcomers and old-timers.
The first BJP government headed by Yeddyurappa took office May 30, 2008.
With BJP national leaders holding back on giving the nod for filling vacancies for one reason or the other, a group of old-timers in the party has launched a signature campaign for early cabinet expansion.
Around 50 of the party's 120 members in the assembly have already signed the letter seeking early cabinet expansion, says state unit spokesperson C.T. Ravi, who is one of the initiators of the campaign.
Though he himself is a strong aspirant for a cabinet berth, Ravi says: "We are not insisting that any of us be made a minister. All we are telling our leaders is that they give proper representation to people who have served the party dedicatedly for a long time and also ensure that regional and community aspirations are met."
Gowda too has been pressing the party's national leaders to allow him to fill the vacancies as he has to handle around 20 departments.
There is, however, no indication from the BJP national leaders on whether they will give the nod soon. They are apparently waiting for the Supreme Court decision on whether mining bribery charges against Yeddyurappa - because of which he was forced to resign July 31 - need to be probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Though the Karnataka High Court has quashed the charges, the apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee, which is probing illegal mining and related activities in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, has recommended such a probe against Yeddyurappa.
If the Supreme Court accepts the committee's recommendation, BJP national leaders will feel confident to give the green signal to Gowda to expand the cabinet as Yeddyurappa will lose his bargaining chip.
He has been pressuring the party to reinstate him as chief minister on the ground that the high court has cleared him of the bribery charges.
As party national leaders play the waiting game, state BJP president K.S. Eshwarappa is doing his bit to keep the increasingly restive party legislators in good humour.
"Their demand is justified. I am confident that a decision will be taken in a week or two," he has been saying since the signature campaign was launched early this week.
This, of course, has been the refrain of Gowda ever since he became chief minister Aug 4 last year. Hence, few BJP legislators are buying Eshwarappa's assurance.
Even if the cabinet is expanded this month, the new ministers will have less than a year in office as assembly elections are due in April-May 2013.
(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)