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Infighting in Congress over plum Cabinet posts makes the going tough for Siddaramaiah

DK Shivakumar (Left) and Siddaramaiah(Right)

Bengaluru: The stage is set for the return of the ‘Congress raj’ under Siddaramaiah’s leadership as the swearing in ceremony of the new cabinet is scheduled to be held at the Kanteerava Stadium on Saturday. However, with several aspirants for ministerial posts mounting pressure on the high command, it is unlikely to be a smooth affair.

As the demands of Lingayat, Dalit and Muslim representatives for deputy chief minister’s post were ignored, it has left a huge question mark over the stability of the government.

Discordant voice

Former KPCC president and Dalit leader G Parameshwara has openly expressed his disappointment at a Dalit not being made deputy chief minister despite 37 SC/ST members being elected to the Assembly. “Karnataka has never had a Dalit chief minister. At least, a deputy CM’s post could have been given. The party leadership will soon see the reactions,” he warned.

Headaches aplenty for Siddu

Siddaramaiah will face multiple headaches from Day One as, having missed the chief minister’s post, Shivakumar will demand plum portfolios for himself and his supporting MLAs. Shivakumar is also miffed that though the party wants him to continue as KPCC president until the Lok Sabha elections, there is no clarity on the ‘power sharing formula.’

Instead of just a verbal assurance that he would take over as chief minister from Siddaramaiah after two years, Shivakumar wanted it to be made public. But, party president Mallikarjun Kharge told him that there would be no such announcement as it would undermine Siddaramaiah’s leadership for now.

The exercise of ministry formation itself will be an arduous task as against 34 berths available, there are three times more claimants. Siddaramaiah will have to balance the demands of various castes, communities and regions while satisfying his own supporters who have high expectations.

Shivakumar is reportedly demanding Water Resources, Energy and Bengaluru Development for himself in return for the ‘sacrifices’ he has made in the interest of the party, but Siddaramaiah knows that he has to satisfy the expectations of many seniors who have been elected as well.

MB Patil, the Lingayat representative, who had demanded deputy CM post for Lingayats as they had voted for Congress in large numbers after three decades, is pitching for the Home or Water Resources ministry. He had suggested at least 6 to 8 cabinet berths for Lingayats to keep them ‘happy’ and extend their support to the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections.

Besides Parameshwara, KH Muniyappa, a 7-time former MP from Kolar, has been elected to the Assembly for the first time and having been a union minister earlier he is eyeing an important portfolio.

RV Deshpande and Ramalinga Reddy, who have been elected for the ninth and eighth time respectively, are also hopeful of ‘good’ ministries in tune with their experience and seniority, though it is likely that Deshpande may be persuaded to become the Speaker.

Mohammed Salim, Zameer Ahmed, Tanveer Sait and Arshan Rizwan are all in the race from the ‘Muslim quota’, while Laxmi Hebalkar, Anjali Nimbalkar and Roopakala are among the women aspirants.

With the Congress having won 135 seats after two decades, Siddaramaiah’s challenges with the ‘problem of plenty’ has just begun.

Papering over these differences, the Congress leadership is planning to make the swearing in ceremony a gala affair by inviting all four Congress CMs besides the chief ministers of opposition-ruled states of West Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, Odisha etc. Leaders like Farook Abdulla, Mehbooba Mufti and Tejaswi Yadav are also being invited. However, chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Singh Mann of the Aam Admi Party are unlikely to be invited.

With the Gandhi family being in full attendance amidst a “galaxy” of opposition leaders, the Congress party hopes to put Rahul Gandhi in the pole position to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, but Mamata Bannerjee has already made it clear that Congress will have a role in opposition unity only if it accords primacy to regional parties wherever they are strong.

Ramakrishna Upadhya writes on Karnataka politics from his perch in Bengaluru. Views expressed are personal.