The timing was just perfect.
Many families of Covid patients had their own sob stories to tell, about being not able to get a bed through the war room. Surya’s point was that some war-room workers were making a fast buck by clandestinely selling beds to desperate patients by manipulating the online portal to book hospital beds.
While pillorying the war-room officials in full glare of TV cameras, the 30-year-old MP veered off and read out the names of 16 Muslim youth, who worked there on contract from a manpower supplier.
Surya wondered how they came to be employed, while an MLA with him mouthed a communal slur. Immediately thereafter, the police picked the workers, but let them go after questioning overnight on learning that they were not part of the team handling bed allotment.
To all those who thought only these 16 youths who ran the war room, it later turned out they were part of 200-plus workers the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike had hired for war-room operations. Bengaluru’s civic body has since ordered their reinstatement.
When Surya, who is also the national president of BJP’s youth wing, held a media conference on Monday, almost every question he faced was about the propriety of naming the Muslim men without a shred of evidence against them.
Most war-room positions are temporary and pay low wages. The workers whose names the MP read out went through hell on social media. Reports say some have refused to return to work.
As Surya and three BJP MLAs, accompanied by a TV crew, did a live show on May 4 alleging a scam, chief minister BS Yediyurappa must have felt deep discomfort.
The information Surya was sharing suggested the CM had little or no knowledge of BBMP’s Covid war-room operations though he holds the civic body’s portfolio.
While sections of senior ministers were queasy about the party’s own lawmakers going public instead of trying to fix things internally, the opposition Congress and Janata Dal (S) made a biryani out of it, and are still savouring it.
Political watchers interpreted the development as suggestive of a split in the state BJP between those in the CM’s camp and those outside of it. There were also suggestions that the four men chose to embarrass Yediyurappa as part of a larger scheme to unseat him.
Not A First
This is not the first time Surya, who succeeded late BJP leader Ananth Kumar as the Bengaluru South MP, has kicked off a storm.
In September last year, he tweeted that Bengaluru had become an “epicentre of terror activities”, sending the government’s PR machinery into a damage control overdrive. That was the time Karnataka was trying its best to improve its ranking in the ease-of-doing-business index, and bureaucrats feared Surya had set the clock back by months.
Sections of Bengalureans also felt their MP did a disservice to the hard-earned reputation of Bengaluru as India’s technology capital.
Months before that, at the height of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, he had remarked only “puncture-wallahs” were opposed to the law and the National Register of Citizens. The jibe was seen as communal, elitist and anti-poor.