The Missing Karnataka Cabinet: Coalition Rumblings Continue Ahead Of Swearing In
An alliance stitched up in a hurry has left many in the ruling coalition unhappy. Looking at the long list of disgruntled elements within the Congress and JD(S), it becomes clear that the rumblings are going to continue for long.
It was an alliance that was stitched up in a hurry to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out. The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) came together and after much bargaining and deliberations, a decision was taken on the allocation of portfolios. In the entire process what was interesting was that the JD(S) with just 37 members of legislative assembly (MLAs) managed to muscle the Congress, which has 79 MLAs.
A large section of the Congress leadership in Karnataka appears to be miffed over the manner in which sharing of portfolios was done. The Congress in Karnataka was keen on the finance and power portfolios, but H D Kumaraswamy managed to talk his way through and ensured that his party got to keep these two important ministries.
When the talks between the two hit a deadlock over the allocation of portfolios, Congress president Rahul Gandhi who was abroad directed his party men to get in touch with H D Deve Gowda and finalise the issue. Gandhi it appears was more keen on stitching up an alliance for 2019 rather than getting into the nuances of the Cabinet formation in Karnataka.
Many within the Congress tried to impress upon the high command not to let go off plum portfolios. The Karnataka Congress leaders even wanted a term sharing arrangement, but neither the high command nor the JD(S) were prepared to budge.
The first signs of dissent was noticed when a senior Congress leader from north Karnataka, S R Patil resigned as the working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC). For public consumption, he said that he took moral responsibility for the party’s poor performance in the Karnataka legislative assembly elections.
Patil had in fact tendered his resignation on 25 May itself, two days after Kumaraswamy and Dr G Parameshwara took oath as chief minister and deputy chief minister respectively. He, however, made it public two days back. This reportedly after Parameshwara said that the party would take a call on whether those who had served as ministers in the past would be inducted into the existing cabinet.
The Congress in fact on the advice of Gandhi is trying to keep those who have served as ministers in the past out of the cabinet. Gandhi is learnt to have told the Congress to induct fresh faces instead. If this policy is implemented then the likes of D K Shivakumar, K J George, Roshan Baig, R V Deshpande and Shamanuru Shivashankarappa would be left out as they have had multiple terms in earlier governments.
Patil’s disgruntlement is also due to the fact that he was left out of the discussions by the Congress and JD(S). It may be recalled that he was one of the frontrunners for the post of deputy chief minister when the talks were on. Several leaders from north Karnataka such as Patil and also Shamanuru Shivashankarappa had said that the post of a second deputy chief minister be created so that the balance is struck between south and north Karnataka. They also felt that it would reduce the anger among the Lingayats, who had rejected the Congress and backed the BJP in the recently concluded elections.
However, the Congress leadership and the JD(S) did not take this into consideration. There are reports that suggest that many within the Congress are miffed with Patil because he had helped Siddaramaiah register a narrow win in Badami. When asked for his comment on this, he had told reporters that had Siddaramaiah lost from both Chamundeshwari and Badami, it would have caused irreparable damage to the party. I would not want to comment any further on this, he had also said.
The resignation of Patil has jolted the Congress and senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge even said that the issue needs to be resolved. We need to talk to him and find out why he is unhappy, Kharge also said.
The developments of the past few days have also left the Congress strongman, D K Shivakumar stunned. After ensuring that not a single MLA of the Congress was poached, he was hopeful of a good deal. At first there were reports that he was eyeing the post of deputy chief minister. However, when that went Parameshwara’s way, he had hoped that he would get at least the power portfolio, which he had held under Siddaramaiah. The Congress was, however, not able to retain this portfolio and the JD(S) managed to bargain its way through this.
The power portfolio slipped out from the Congress due to excessive bargaining by Deve Gowda’s son H D Revanna. He had held both PWD and power when Kumaraswamy was the chief minister in 2006-07 and was in no mood to give up these portfolios. Shivakumar had in fact made a saracastic comment after the Congress gave up the power portfolio. He referred to Revanna as a big man, who he could not be compared to. From the various statements that Shivakumar has been issuing it is clear that he is an unhappy man. He would have hoped to be rewarded instantly as he single handedly held the Congress flock together. To pacify him, the party may end up making him the KPCC chief.
Although the Congress bargained hard for both finance and power, Gandhi is said to have intervened and asked his party to give up the demand so as to ensure smooth functioning of the government. The Karnataka Congress had no option, but to tow the line. K C Venugopal, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary had said that there were a few issues to be settled, including that of the finance portfolio. However, we decided to give it up after Gandhi instructed us to do so, he said.
Many within the Congress feel that the party had given away too much to the JD(S). The manner in which the Congress gave in to every demand made by the JD(S) makes it appear as though the Congress is the junior partner in the coalition. A large section within the Congress felt that the term of chief minister ought to have been shared. However, from Kharge’s statement, it appears as though the high command was in no mood to go in for a hard bargain with the JD(S). Kharge said that the issue pertaining to term sharing is closed. It needs no further discussion and the decision of the party is final and not that of individuals.
The Congress leaders in Karnataka feel that if the party had to give into all demands of the JD(S), it should have at least fought harder for the finance portfolio. The JD(S) was keen on this as it wanted to implement the farm loan waiver it had promised in its manifesto. The Congress on the other hand had made no such promise. During talks with Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kumaraswamy had even said that he would resign if the finance portfolio was not given to the JD(S). The high command of the Congress easily gave in to the demand as it did not want this coalition collapsing at any cost.
For the Congress the bigger problem for now is that the allocation of the portfolios. If it adopts the no-second term policy as Parameshwara had pointed out, then there is bound to be further resentment. The senior leaders, who could be left out if this policy is adopted, feel that it is a way of sidelining them.
The rumblings of the portfolio allocation can be heard in the JD(S) as well. Many are miffed that H D Revanna is lobbying for two portfolios. For instance, the giant killer, H T Deve Gowda was reportedly upset that the JD(S) gave up water resources and revenue, the portfolios he was eyeing. Both were handed over to the Congress. There are reports that he may be given the cooperation portfolio. He, however, told the Deccan Herald that he would refuse it since he has been in the cooperation sector since 1969 and if offered the same, he would refuse it.
Seven time member of legislative council Basavaraj Horatti too has been demanding that he be given primary and secondary education. The JD(S) is trying to make him the legislative council chairman. Horatti, however, said that he is not interested in the post. I am strong contender for ministership, he said.
From the manner in which the events have shaped up, it becomes clear that both the Congress and JD(S) hurriedly entered into an alliance to grab power in Karnataka. Looking at the long list of disgruntled elements on both sides, it becomes clear that the rumblings are going to continue for long.
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