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Karnataka Cabinet list cut from 25 to 10 at last minute as fight for berths flares up

Congress leader Siddaramaiah takes oath as the Chief Minister of Karnataka in Bengaluru. (ANI)

Even as Siddaramaiah was sworn in as chief minister of Karnataka for the second time in his career at a largely-attended ceremony in Bengaluru on Saturday, the signs of intense ‘power struggle’ within the Congress became evident, as the number of ministers to be sworn in was slashed from 25 to 10 at the eleventh hour to contain any open display of dissidence on Day One itself.

Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, who became deputy chief minister, had held day-long parleys with top leaders in New Delhi on Friday, including party president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, KC Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala on cabinet formation. Late on Friday night, news trickling in from Delhi indicated that in the first instalment, 25 ministers, including Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar, would be sworn in. Accordingly, the concerned MLAs were also told to come to Kanteerava Stadium for the 12.30 pm ceremony on Saturday.

 Shock at day-break

But, at day-break, when Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar arrived at Kempegowda International Airport by a special flight, there was a sudden change of plan effected by the party high command and only 10 names were sent to the Raj Bhavan for the oath-taking ceremony.

In the revised list, only seven seniors, D Parameshwara, KH Muniyappa two SC representatives, MB Patil, a Lingayat, Satish Jarkiholi, an OBC, Ramalinga Reddy, a Reddy Vokkaliga, KJ George, a Christian, Zameer Ahmed Khan, a Muslim and Priyank Kharge, a relative junior and Mallikarjun Kharge’s son, perhaps from the ‘VIP quota’ were included.

Governor Tawar Chand Gehlot administered the oath office and secrecy, amidst a galaxy of Opposition leaders which included Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress chief ministers, Bihar chief minister Nittsh Kumar, Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdulla, Mehbooba Mufti from J&K,, D Raja, Sitaram and Yachuri, from Communist parties and Tejaswi Yadav. Actor Kamal Hasan was also present.

 Display of opposition disunity

However, conspicuous by their absence were other non-Congress chief ministers like Mamata Bannerjee, Chandrashekar Rao, Jaganmohan Reddy, Naveen Patnaik and Arvind Kejriwal and other prominent leaders like Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thakeray, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and BSP’s Mayawati. Clearly, the attempt to project Rahul Gandhi as the ‘architect’ of Karnataka victory and ready to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as a leader of the ‘joint opposition’, flopped.

The cabinet formation left a bad taste in the mouth for several senior Congress leaders. While RV Deshpande, who was left out despite being the only MLA winning for a ninth term, openly expressed his disappointment, HC Mahadevappa, a staunch Siddaramaiah loyalist and Vinay Kulkarni, a Lingayat leader from north Karnataka, said it was ‘unfortunate’ that they had not been considered for inclusion in the cabinet.

In fact, the central Karnataka, consisting of Shivamogga, Davanagere, Chikkamagaluru and Chitradurga, which solidly voted for the Congress went unrepresented, while the Lingayat-dominated Kittur Karnataka and Kalyana Karnataka which shifted loyalties to the Congress after three decades, were also in for a shock as only one person each got selected. Bengaluru City, where Congress’s tally was only 12 seats, got four representatives in Ramalinga Reddy, KJ George, KH Muniyappa and Zameer Ahmed.

 Confusion over power-sharing

The distribution of portfolios is yet to be announced and the exercise may take two or three days as there is no clarity on the power-sharing formula between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar. There has been some speculation that just as both of them will serve for 30 months each as chief ministers, the same 50:50 formula would apply to the sharing of portfolios as well.

But Siddaramaiah has firmly rejected the suggestion that he should step down in favour of Shivakumar after 30 months as he believes that the ‘people’ have elected him for a full term. His assertion has been supported by KC Venugopal, who told the media that there was no power-sharing arrangement, but Shivakumar claims that Mallikarjun Karge and Sonia Gandhi have assured him that he will get his opportunity to become CM in 2026.

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