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Congress internal tussle over finance portfolio to JD(S) delaying Karnataka cabinet expansion

Central leaders of the Congress are willing to concede the finance portfolio to the JD(S) but the Karnataka Congress leaders have remained adamant on their demand for the key ministry.

Karnataka Elections 2018 Updated: May 30, 2018 06:58 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress,Karnataka Congress,JD(S)
JD(S) leader and Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy presents a bouquet to Congress president Rahul Gandhi during a meeting in New Delhi.(PTI File Photo)

An internal tussle in the Congress over the party’s approach in dealing with the Janata Dal (Secular) at the national level and in Karnataka is delaying the state Cabinet’s expansion, a senior party leader familiar with the development said on Tuesday.

The central leaders of the Congress are willing to concede the finance portfolio – a bone of contention between the two parties -- to the JD(S), keeping in mind the need for broader Opposition unity ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

But Karnataka Congress leaders have remained adamant on their demand for the key ministry, arguing that yielding to the alliance partner at the beginning of the coalition government’s term will hurt the party in the long run in the southern state.

“They (central leaders) don’t want the portfolio issue to jeopardise larger Opposition unity in 2019. Their stand is that the Congress should be seen as walking an extra mile to keep the opposition unity intact ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections,” the leader cited above said on condition of anonymity.

Senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel and Ashok Gehlot are holding internal discussions with deputy chief minister and Karnataka Congress chief G Parameshwara, former chief minister Siddaramaiah and senior party leader in Karnataka, DK Shivakumar.

“The state leaders are of the view that the finance portfolio in Karnataka is very important since the chief minister’s post is with the JD(S). All development projects are cleared by the ministry. Instead of convincing the alliance partners, they feel the Delhi leaders concede too much,” the leader cited above said.

He said Congress president Rahul Gandhi was keen on having a “functional government” in place in Karnataka and has told the central and state leaders to negotiate with the JD(S) on terms beneficial to both the sides.

In lieu of the finance ministry, the Congress state leadership has agreed to give the home, public works department (PWD) and revenue ministries to the JD(S). But chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and other JD(S) leaders are insisting on the finance ministry so that they would be able to announce a promised loan waiver for farmers.

The Bengaluru development ministry is another sticking point in the Cabinet expansion that got delayed even after Kumaraswamy took the oath of office on May 23.

On record, Congress spokesman Tom Vadakkan said a “stable government” in Karnataka will soon take shape. “Our alliance is strong and deeply rooted for the welfare of Karnataka. You will see a very strong Cabinet soon. It is irrelevant who gets the finance ministry or who will be the finance minister,” he said.

Although negotiations between the two sides went on until midnight on Monday, an agreement remained elusive.

JD(S) leader Kunwar Danish Ali, who is negotiating on behalf of his party, expressed the hope that all “sticking issues” will be resolved in a day or two.

But political observers find “intriguing” the tussle between the two parties on the finance portfolio particularly after the Congress offered unconditional support to the JD(S) in government formation in the larger interest of putting in place a broad-based secular alliance in 2019.

“What is the finance ministry, after all? It is just a clearance department especially after the GST (goods and service tax) has come into force. All policies, schemes and programmes are in any case announced in the budget. So, I am somewhat puzzled why this insistence on the finance portfolio by both sides? That is intriguing and there is something more to it than meets the eye,” said A Narayana, associate professor for public policy at the Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University.

First Published: May 29, 2018 23:21 IST