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In Karnataka reshuffle, hints about changing balance of power in Congress

In the expansion, the Congress had sought to address the perceived imbalance in the Cabinet, which was made up primarily of leaders from the southern districts of the state.

india Updated: Dec 28, 2018 23:38 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengluru
Congress,Siddaramaiah,Janata Dal (Secular)
Former chief minister of Karnataka and the Chairman of Co-ordination committee Siddaramaiah(R) and the chief minister of Karnataka, H D Kumarswamy(L) during a joint press conference of Congress and Janta Dal (Secular) in Bengaluru on October 20.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

Portfolio allocations to the eight new ministers inducted by the Congress last week showed that dissidents were rewarded with plum berths, with MB Patil getting the home portfolio. The Congress released on Friday a list of the portfolios allocated to its leaders in its alliance government with the Janata Dal (Secular).

The Congress had been racked by dissidence in its ranks ever since it decided to join hands with the Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s JD(S), and this was accentuated after the first cabinet expansion, after which those who lost out on ministerial berths had openly criticised the state leadership of the party.

Last week, too, dissidence cropped up after prominent senior leaders, like Ramalinga Reddy, were overlooked and one prominent leader, Ramesh Jarkiholi, who was in the Cabinet, was dropped.

As per the new allocations, deputy chief minister G Parameshwar has been given additional charge of the Law, Parliamentary Affairs, as well as information technology and biotechnology portfolios in lieu of the politically-sensitive home ministry that he had to let go. Parameshwara also holds charge of the much sought-after Bengaluru Development ministry.

MB Patil, who led the movement for separate religion status for Lingayats, has been handed the home portfolio. Along with him, another close aide of former chief minister Siddaramaiah, Satish Jarkiholi, included in the Cabinet as a replacement for his brother Ramesh, has been given charge of the Forest, Ecology and Environment portfolio.

Among the other new inductees, CS Shivalli has been given charge of municipalities and local bodies, MTB Nagaraj has been allocated housing, E Tukaram has been handed Medical Education, which was taken away from senior leader DK Shivakumar, PT Parameshwar Naik has been given charge of Muzrai and Skill development, Rahim Khan has been allocated Youth Empowerment and Sports, and RB Thimmapur has been given Ports and Inland Transport and the Sugar department.

The allocation of ministries was firmed up after robust lobbying from leaders amid rumours of a tussle between Siddaramaiah and Parameshwara. Indeed, Congress leaders had complained after the first expansion that the deputy chief minister had cornered many of the coveted departments.

A senior Congress leader, who asked not to be identified, said it was natural for some differences to appear in the wake of the reshuffle. “Many leaders knew that they would have to divest some ministries when the expansion happens. But they get attached to the ministries, so it is natural that there is some heartburn in the process,” the leader said.

In the expansion, the Congress had sought to address the perceived imbalance in the Cabinet, which was made up primarily of leaders from the southern districts of the state. However, in addressing this problem, another senior Congress leader said, the party had selected only loyalists of Siddaramaiah, whose influence over the party appears to have increased again.

This, the leader quoted above said, was a natural fallout of the fact that the former chief minister is the only leader in the state who can rally all the legislators. “He is the leader of the Congress legislature party, which means that if the party had a majority he would be the chief minister. So, it is no surprise that he enjoys tremendous support,” the Congress leader said.

Indeed, after the Congress was reduced to 82 seats in the May assembly elections, down from 122 in the 2013 elections, Congress leaders had blamed Siddaramaiah for failing to ensure the party’s victory. Around 20 of his cabinet colleagues lost the polls, including most famously, his own defeat in the Chamundeshwari seat in Mysuru by a margin of around 35,000 votes.

However, after a brief sabbatical after the state elections, the recent dissidence in the Congress has shown that it is Siddaramaiah who is the de-facto leader of the party in the state, with leaders rallying around the former chief minister in times of crisis.

To be sure, Siddaramaiah is also the chairman of the coordination committee of the coalition government. Additionally, he was also elevated to the Congress Working Committee in July, indicating that the party’s high command still favours him despite the loss in the elections.

Political analyst Narendar Pani, a faculty member at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, said there were two primary reasons for Siddaramaiah’s current position within the Congress. “While Siddaramaiah already enjoyed significant clout within the state unit, the party high command’s backing clearly reinforced his position,” he said.

Added to this, Pani said, was the fact that the potential challengers within the party had embroiled themselves in factional feuds that had eroded their standing among others in the Congress. Pani was referring to the feud between irrigation minister DK Shivakumar and the Jarkiholi brothers of Belagavi that threatened to destabilise the party.

“By getting involved in these factional feuds, Siddaramaiah’s challengers seem to have eroded their own influence and in the process strengthened his position further. As a result, he has emerged as someone who is above these petty quarrels,” Pani said.

The Cabinet rejig was also criticised by public works minister HD Revanna, who said the Congress might face a backlash for divesting Parameshwara, who hails from a Scheduled Caste community, of the home portfolio. “Poor Parameshwara is a senior leader and is respected,” he said. “He belongs to the SC community, was it necessary to divest him of the home portfolio? He has worked hard in his department, he should have been continued as home minister,” he said. Later he said, he could not help it if the Congress could not tolerate a Dalit being a deputy chief minister.

First Published: Dec 28, 2018 22:29 IST