Congress hopes to buy time for Kumaraswamy govt with cabinet expansion
Senior leaders of the Congress, including AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, and chief minister HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) held hectic parleys on Wednesday to discuss ways to keep the year-old coalition government safe.
Venugopal arrived in the city in the early hours of the day to hold discussions with state leaders especially in the light of the dismal performance of the coalition in the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state. They were able to win only one seat each.
Venugopal held a meeting with CM Kumaraswamy, deputy chief minister G Parameshwara, Congress state president Dinesh Gundu Rao, Congress Legislature Party chief Siddaramaiah and water resources minister DK Shivakumar.
Former chief minister Siddaramaiah told reporters after attending the meeting that the partners had discussed an expansion of the state Cabinet. “There is no reshuffle, it’s an expansion. There are three vacancies and we are thinking of filling them,” he said.
At present, there are 31 ministers in the Cabinet out of a maximum strength of 34.The Congress has one vacancy out of its quota of 22 ministerial berths and the JD(S) has two. Through an expansion the coalition leaders hope to include dissident leaders and placate them to quash any possibility of rebellion.
This move comes in the light of the opposition BJP’s renewed confidence that the government is likely to dissolve. The BJP led in 170 of the 224 segments in the state in the Lok Sabha polls, a year after it won 104 of the 224 seats in the state polls.
On paper, the coalition enjoys the support of 118 MLAs – 79 of the Congress, 37 of the JD(S), one BSP MLA and an Independent legislator. However, the coalition’s year in power has been marked by concerted efforts from some Congress MLAs to break away and join the BJP.
Parameshwara said the leaders had primarily discussed the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls and why the coalition had been ineffective in winning more seats. “We discussed why the outcome was poor despite contesting as a coalition. We have also discussed the situation in the state. Later in the day there will be a Congress Legislature Party meeting and we’ve asked MLAs to discuss the problems they face in their constituencies,” he said.
The Congress has also called a meeting of its Legislature Party to take its MLAs into confidence. However, all eyes will be on the attendees as rebel MLAs had stayed away from previous CLP meets in January.
Ramesh Jarkiholi, who said in April that he would quit the party, R Roshan Baig, who criticised Venugopal and Siddaramaiah, are not expected to attend the meeting. A senior Congress leader told HT on condition of anonymity that the party had given up on Jarkiholi as he had refused to speak to any of its leaders for a considerable time.
Venugopal said the party had informed the central leadership about the dissidents and a decision would be taken soon. “We will seek the opinion of senior leaders and we will take an unanimous decision and move forward,” he said.