On Monday, as world markets were crashing, Sadananda Gowda, Karnataka's new chief minister, inducted his cabinet.
A prominent member of his party, Katta Subramanaya Naidu, was jailed for his involvement in a land swindle the same day. Accompanying Katta to Bangalore's central prison was his son Jagadish, also accused in the case. For those who believe in omens, Sadananda Gowda's ascendance came at an inauspicious moment.
In his two terms as MLA and an equal time as MP, no one has accused Sadananda Gowda of corruption. In fact, he is seen as a rare politician who has remained clean. But the circumstances in which he took charge mark him out as Yeddyurappa's man, and a rubber stamp. Never had Sadananda Gowda dreamed he would be chief minister. Like Manomohan Singh, he just happened to be around when his party was looking out for a non-controversial leader.
The Kannada tabloids are calling Sadananda Gowda a proxy chief minister because they see him warming Yeddyurappa's seat for six months. They expect Yeddyurappa to be back at the helm of the party sooner than later. Sadananda Gowda hails from coastal Karnataka. (Veerappa Moily was the other coastal district politician who served as Karnataka chief minister). He is a Vokkaliga by caste, and is seen as BJP's answer to the powerful Vokkaliga leader H D Deve Gowda. Many think the BJP has delivered a killer punch by making him chief minister with support from Yeddyurappa. The Vokkaligas and Lingayats constitute the two prominent castes of Karnataka, and with a leader like Sadananda Gowda representing both interests, the BJP hopes to sweep assembly elections, due in two years.
Yeddyurappa, prised out of his seat after he was indicted in a mining scandal, is not going to remain quiet. He has already split the party into two camps. Jagadish Shettar, who was the other chief ministerial candidate, got nine seats in the cabinet. Sadananda Gowda's cabinet has 21 members, the rest being from Yeddyurappa's camp.
The Reddys, also indicted in the mining scandal, are out of the cabinet, but another tainted leader, V Somanna, has found a slot. All of which makes Sadananda Gowda's cabinet unstable right from the first day.
Even with a clean record and the best of intentions, Sadananda Gowda comes to his job hobbled. It will be interesting to watch how the unlikely chief minister balances the warring factions and leads a lot considered the most corrupt in India. He has overtaken hopefuls like Ananth Kumar and Jagadish Shettar to get his job, but the question everyone is asking: Is he just a dummy for Yeddyurappa?