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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  What to do with a minister like Sadananda Gowda?

What to do with a minister like Sadananda Gowda?

Union minister Sadananda Gowda's portfolio has been changed two times in as many cabinet reshuffles, but he remains crucial to BJP's Karnataka plans

Sadananda Gowda is now minister of stastitics and programme implementation, post the cabinet reshuffle earlier this week. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/MintPremium
Sadananda Gowda is now minister of stastitics and programme implementation, post the cabinet reshuffle earlier this week. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Bengaluru: When the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power in 2014, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, the always-smiling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Karnataka, was given charge of the railway ministry.

That’s a portfolio many ministers had used in the past to make a mark politically and connect with the people in a country where 23 million passengers travel daily by rail.

Gowda, 63, a lawyer by education who served as Karnataka chief minister in 2011-2012, never quite got the time to settle down in the job, let alone shine. He was moved to the law ministry in a matter of months. And in the cabinet reshuffle earlier this week, he was moved again, this time to the ministry of statistics and programme implementation.

Why is the Karnataka politician being transferred from one ministry to another?

“He has not been able to deliver in Delhi politics," says Sandeep Shastri, a Karnataka-based political analyst and pro-vice chancellor of Jain University.

Shastri cites Gowda’s brief stint in the railway ministry as an example. “Railways is one of those departments where there is a possibility of very high-visibility programmes to be launched and where people can really feel an impact in their day-to-day life," he said.

He cites the example of Suresh Prabhu, who as railway minister since 2014, has maintained a high profile, spelling out a string of ambitious plans for the national transporter—from cleaning up railway stations to the use of Twitter to help commuters who find themselves in trouble.

Gowda declined to comment on the cabinet reshuffle. He did not reply to a specific question on the reason for being moved again in this week’s cabinet reshuffle. On the sidelines of a media briefing in Bengaluru on Thursday, Gowda said he would not comment on the reshuffle.

At least half-a-dozen Karnataka BJP leaders too declined to comment on the record on Gowda being moved again.

“I won’t be able to talk about this... (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah have a unique style of functioning, and none of us have an idea on this. We don’t ask, and they don’t tell," said one of the top leaders of BJP in the Karnataka assembly, requesting not to be named.

“The prime minister perhaps wanted to give more strength to that (statistics and programme implementation) ministry. Every ministry or department is equally important," said Prahlad Joshi, a former president of the BJP in Karnataka.

Anyway, what could explain the union government accommodating Gowda in the cabinet in each reshuffle?

The answer may be found in the dynamics of state politics and caste equations.

Karnataka goes to the polls two years from now, and the stakes are high for both the BJP and the Congress, which rules the state. A victory for the BJP in the next election would strengthen its position in the south. For the Congress, it’s the only large state where it’s in power.

Gowda is an important leader of the dominant Vokkaliga community in Karnataka, noted Shastri, and the BJP would have thought it may not be a great idea to antagonize the Vokkaliga lobby at this stage.

The other reason for Gowda’s “political accommodation" could be the internal differences within the party, said another analyst.

B.S. Yeddyurappa, a former BJP chief minister of Karnataka who quit in 2011 after a corruption scandal, was in April appointed as the head of the party’s state unit. His roots lie in the Lingayat community, a key voter base in Karnataka.

It benefits Yeddyurappa to have Gowda in Delhi as the Lingayat community strongman is trying to position himself as the unquestioned leader of the BJP in the state, said a close observer of Karnataka politics, who did not want to be named because he is on the board of government panels.

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Published: 08 Jul 2016, 07:34 PM IST
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