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Yeddyurappa fulfilled his dream of becoming Karnataka’s 23rd CM on the date he had repeatedly announced during his campaign. A green shawl draped around his shoulders, the veteran saffronite took oath in the name of god and farmers. His return to the CMO was facilitated by the Supreme Court’s green light in the early hours of Thursday, after a dramatic hearing that began at 2.10am and stretched on for three-and-a-half hours.
A three-judge bench of Justices A K Sikri, S A Bobde and Ashok Bhushan was asked by CJI Dipak Misra to hear a joint petition filed by Congress and JD(S) to block governor Vajubhai Vala’s invitation to Yeddyurappa to take first shot at government formation. The hastily cobbled post-poll alliance contended that it should have got the call, since it had 115 members against BJP’s 104 in the House with an effective strength of 221 (HD Kumaraswamy won from two seats and can exercise only one vote in a trial of strength).
The SC’s willingness to hear arguments well past midnight earned it praise from the Congress for a change. However, the bench decided not to stay the oath-taking ceremony, though it said it would hear the Congress-JD(S)’s legal challenge to Vala’s decision on Friday morning. The bench also clearly said the legality of the swearing-in would be subject to its order on Friday.
Crucially, the judges will focus on the two letters Yeddyurappa wrote to the governor on Tuesday and Wednesday to insist that he be invited first to form the government despite Congress-JD(S) claiming the support of 11 MLAs more than BJP.
The bench is also likely to get into the issue of the 15-day timeframe Raj Bhavan has set for Yeddyurappa to prove his majority. The Congress-JD(S) combine has argued that the long window will be misused by BJP to manufacture a majority in the assembly. Interestingly, former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for BJP in the midnight hearing, was open to the idea of the deadline being reduced to a week or so.
But the twin challenges, or the absence of PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah at the swearing-in, did not appear to faze either the new CM or his scouts working furiously to lasso MLAs from the rival alliance to secure a majority which will also help them get a BJP MLA elected as Speaker: a post of crucial significance, especially in situations of hung Houses where presiding officers have to play referee on important issues, including that of defection and disqualification.
They appear to have already been successful with two Congress lawmakers — Vijayanagara (Ballari) MLA Anand Singh who served as tourism minister under Yeddyurappa and other CMs, and Prathapgouda Patil, who was elected from Maski in Raichur district — bolting. Patil left Eagleton Resort, the “safe house” Congress had moved its MLAs too, citing health reasons. But Congress circles conceded, that the two could have been poached.
In any case, there were other “suspects” on the Congress list, including Kudligi MLA Nagendra, who is related to B R Sreeramulu, BJP’s tribal leader who is tipped to be appointed deputy CM. Nagendra had hit the headlines when he presented Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with a statue of sage Valmiki worth Rs 60 lakh.
Congress sources were also apprehensive of the intention of Afzalpur MLA M Y Patil amid a concerted effort by BJP to tap into the unease of the party’s Lingayat MLAs over the support for Kumaraswamy. The chief minister candidate of the Congress-JD(S) combine is a leader of Vokkaligas who have been at odds with Lingayats for decades.
Yeddyurappa controversially moved for the nomination of Vinisha Nero from the Anglo-Indian community in order to raise his tally. Although the move was immediately challenged by Congress and JD(S) in the SC, it brought out the determination of BJP to cobble together the required number: the resoluteness will only spike if the SC does not strike down his appointment as CM on Friday.
Late in the evening, Yeddyurappa visited the Siddalinga Mutt in Tumakuru to seek the blessings of the pontiff Shivakumar Swami. The mutt’s decision to remain “neutral” during the Veerashaiva-Lingayat controversy helped BJP immensely.
Addressing party workers, he said, “I do not think we need 15 days to prove majority. I am confident that those Congress MLAs lodged in a private resort outside Bengaluru, who have undergone mental torture and harassment, will vote with the government.”
At the other end, the Congress-JD(S) combine’s think tank has assigned the task of keeping the flock intact to three persons — Shamanur Shivashankarappa has been mandated with keeping the most vulnerable Lingayat MLAs within the fold, B Z Zameer Ahmed is in overall charge, while Satish Jarkiholli is in charge of OBCs.