Congress may try to placate the former chief minister of Karnataka by inducting his loyalists into the cabinet.
However, that would still not guarantee the stability of the Kumaraswamy government in the long run.
The problems for the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) alliance in Karnataka seem to be never-ending. After a showdown over the allocation of portfolios, the two parties sparred on whether to present a full budget or an interim one. There were differences over the issue of farm loan waiver too, which the Congress did not seem to be in agreement with.
Amidst all the problems, came the trouble from the big man himself - former chief minister of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah. He is the chairman of the coordination committee and clearly Siddaramaiah is not making it easy for his successor, H D Kumaraswamy.
While the rift between the two parties over the full budget and farm loan waiver were public, more trouble began when a video of Siddaramaiah was circulated, and in which he is heard expressing doubts over the longevity of the coalition. When asked whether the Karnataka government would complete a full five-year term, he said, he doubted that.
What is interesting is that these statements were made by Siddaramaiah at the SDM College of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences, Ujire, where he was undergoing a detox treatment.
Clearly, many in the Congress are upset with the constant barbs by Siddaramaiah. While many leaders have criticised the statements, without naming him directly, there are others who feel that they should adopt a wait and watch policy. Clearly, angering Siddaramaiah is not at all an option for the Congress since he has the unconditional backing of at least 15 MLAs in the party who attribute their victories to him.
On the last day of his treatment and a day after he made those controversial remarks, 12 MLAs of the Congress rushed to Ujire to meet him. All of them were his loyalists and when asked about their sudden visit, they termed it as a courtesy call. While most of them said that there is no danger to the coalition, one of the MLAs B Narayanrao put out a veiled threat. He said that Siddaramaiah is someone they could not ignore at any cost. He said that if the Congress decides to ignore Siddaramaiah, then the coalition would find it hard to survive. The government can survive under the guidance of only Siddaramaiah, he also went on to add.
How Can Siddaramaiah Be Handled?
Siddaramaiah has plenty of reasons to be upset. First and foremost, he lost out on the Chief Minister’s chair, when the Congress hurriedly offered its hand of support to the JD(S). His hate-hate relationship with the JD(S) is well known, since he was once part of that party. He quit the JD(S) to join the Congress as he felt that despite him being the senior most member, the JD(S) had become ‘a Gowda and sons’ party. The Gowdas too have no great love for Siddaramaiah and did do their best to keep him away from the coalition.
While the JD(S) was clearly against making Siddaramaiah, the chairman of the coordination committee, the Congress decided to back him to the hilt as the party was aware that an upset Siddaramaiah could clearly rock the boat. Now the problem for the coalition is that Siddaramaiah heads the committee, which has to be consulted on every crucial matter, and which includes policy decisions.
The JD(S) was insistent on a full budget and farm loan waiver. Siddaramaiah felt that he had presented the budget only recently and hence an interim budget would be sufficient. Siddaramaiah feels that if a full budget is presented, then a lot of schemes that he introduced could be over-ridden by Kumaraswamy.
With Siddaramaiah putting his foot down on a full budget, the Congress decided to rush to Rahul Gandhi. Deve Gowda too was in Delhi calling on leaders of the Congress to ensure that a full budget is presented. Siddaramaiah did not get much support from his party colleagues on this issue. Those close to Siddaramaiah say that he is upset that Kumaraswamy, Deputy Chief Minister, Dr G Parameshwar and D K Shivakumar have ganged up against him.
A Show Of Strength
Siddaramaiah and his loyalists feel that he has got a raw deal. Many of his loyalists, which also includes M B Patil, the Lingayat leader from north Karnataka, have not got Cabinet berths. This has led to speculations that Siddaramaiah is hard bargaining for berths for his loyalists. He would be able to better control the government if his loyalists make it to the list.
All the events in the past couple of days indicate that Siddaramaiah is putting up a show of strength. He had said before his Ujire visit that he wanted to unwind. However, not a single day passed without some kind of political activity.
After the video clip was leaked, several leaders of the Congress visited him. On 27 June, 12 MLAs visited and a day later the number was six. Those who met Siddaramaiah included ministers, Ramesh Jarkiholi and Shivananda Patil, MP BV Naik, MLAs Narayanrao, Pratap Gouda, Nagendra and also former minister T B Jayachandra.
These visits have clearly rattled the Congress as they are aware that Siddaramaiah along with his loyalists can disturb the current arrangement.
Neither the Congress nor the JD(S) wants any trouble for the government at least,until 2019. Kumaraswamy, himself, said that he is confident of retaining his seat until 2019, but was not sure what would happen after that.
All the actions by Siddaramaiah in the past couple of days, indicate that he is putting up a show of strength. After meeting with his loyalists, he visited the newly constructed Karavali Kurubara Sangha building at Kavoor. There were a good number of people from the Kuruba community, which affirmed faith in his leadership. However Siddaramaiah when asked by the media about the recent developments remained quiet. If there is anything to tell you, I will call you he said.
What Will Siddaramaiah Settle for?
There is speculation rife that the Congress would look to pacify Siddaramaiah by inducting his loyalists into the Cabinet. This could be one of the major pre-conditions by Siddaramaiah to remain silent.
He is also likely to get support from the Congress on the issue of farm loan waiver. The Congress leadership is not entirely happy about waiving off farm loans as it was never part of its manifesto. The JD(S) on the other hand did mention this in their manifesto and would like to score brownie points ahead of the 2019 elections. The Congress, which is looking to play the lead partner in a possible 2019 alliance, would not let the JD(S) score on this issue, which incidentally is a major one in Karnataka.
While the Congress may throw a couple of perks here and there to keep Siddaramaiah quiet, it is unlikely that he would be fully convinced. It is a well-known fact that he would never compromise with the Gowdas and the chances of him letting the rivalry die down if very remote.
There are a series of events lined up in the next couple of days, which would indicate the strength of the coalition. There is some speculation that induction of Siddaramaiah’s loyalists into the Cabinet by the Congress can happen any time.
The joint legislature session begins on 2 July, and the Congress and the JD(S) would have to come up with a common minimum programme ahead of that. Congress leader Veerappa Moily and JD(S) minister H D Revanna are part of the committee, which is drafting the common minimum programme. This would then be placed by the Coordination Committee which will meet on 1 July.
During the committee meeting, the two parties would have to agree upon a full budget and also the farm loan waiver. Kumaraswamy said that he would present the budget on 5 July. Will it have the backing of a sulking Siddaramaiah? Let’s wait and see.