Siddaramaiah making matters difficult for Kumaraswamy: Is the alliance in danger?
Former chief minister Siddaramaiah has launched a series of ‘missile’ attacks on his successor HD Kumaraswamy, sending the month-old coalition government in Karnataka into a tailspin.
The attacks have ranged from questioning Kumaraswamy’s move to present a new budget and making a substantial loan waiver to farmers to speculating on the longevity of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition itself.
These barbs could have been dismissed as ranting of a sour loser, but for the fact that Siddaramaiah holds two powerful posts of the leader of the Congress legislature party as well as chairman of the coalition’s coordination and monitoring committee.
Indicating that all is not well between the two partners, Siddaramaiah’s supporter and Congress MLA from Basavakalyan, B Narayana Rao warned that his leader could bring down the government “within minutes” if he continued to be ‘insulted.’
Ever since the coalition government came into being on May 23, Siddaramaiah has turned into a thorn in the flesh for Kumaraswamy as he has never reconciled with the Congress leadership’s decision to rush to JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda’s house and offer ‘unconditional’ support to make Kumaraswamy the chief minister.
State Congress leaders were stunned when the Congress high command without consulting them, made a series of concessions, handing over major portfolios to the JD(S), declaring that Kumaraswamy would be chief minister for five years and announced that the two parties would have a pre-poll alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
With limited berths on offer, most of Siddaramaiah’s loyalists have either been left out of the ministry or have been forced to accept less ‘lucrative’ portfolios. Only KPCC president G Parameshwar, who realised his long-pending ambition of becoming deputy chief minister, seems to be happy, while the others are clinging to the hope that they may get a chance when the remaining vacancies are filled up.
With Kumaraswamy quickly moving in to consolidate his position and that of his party, Siddaramaiah seems to have realised that unless Congress begins to assert itself, it could soon be playing second fiddle to the JD(S).
The Congress leaders are unhappy about some of the unilateral decisions taken by Kumaraswamy like the promotion and transfer of 52 chief engineers, appointment of a retired IAS officer as financial advisor to the chief minister and nomination of film-maker Nagathihalli Chandrasekhar as chairman of the film academy. They feel that these decisions should have been taken by the coordination committee.
While the coordination committee is yet to finalise the common minimum programme for the government, Siddaramaiah took a 12-day break by getting himself admitted at a nature cure hospital at Dharmastala, 300 km away from Bengaluru.
When Kumaraswamy spoke of presenting a new budget to incorporate farm loan waiver promised in his party’s manifesto, Siddaramaiah raised strong objection saying that as chief minister he had presented a ‘full-fledged’ budget in April, and as Congress was part of this government as well, his budget could not be discarded. He asked Kumaraswamy to come up with a supplementary budget if he so desired.
A miffed Kumaraswamy met Rahul Gandhi and got his nod for a new budget, but the fact that Siddaramaiah continues with his relentless campaign shows that he is not afraid of defying his party chief on the issue.
More than a dozen MLAs, including ministers, had gone and met Siddaramaiah at Dharmastala, in an exhibition of his continued clout in the party. In a leaked video chat with his colleagues, Siddaramaiah doubted whether this government would last beyond Lok Sabha elections.
It is possible that Siddaramaiah is not acting unilaterally, and he has the high command’s support to needle Kumaraswamy to keep him in check. It apparently trusts him to protect the party’s interest, with the focus on the 2019 parliament elections.
When the polls approach, there is bound to be hard bargaining between Congress and JD(S) as each wants to maximise the gains against the BJP by coming to an understanding on seat-sharing. But the negotiations are unlikely to be easy as their areas of influence remain almost identical.
Mandya, for instance, will present a classic dilemma. JD(S) currently holds the seat as its candidate CS Puttaraju won by a slender margin of 5,000 votes against Congress, in a constituency which has over 16 lakh voters. Mandya has been a traditional bastion of the Congress, which it can ill-afford to hand over to the JD(S).
Deve Gowda, who wants to vacate his home constituency of Hassan to his grandson, Prajwal Revanna, is already eyeing Mandya as a possible alternative seat for himself. On a visit to a temple at Honnavar recently, when Deve Gowda was asked whether he considered himself a candidate for prime ministership again in 2019, he said, “Everything is in God’s hands.”
If the Election Commission goes ahead and notifies the bye-elections to Shivamogga, Ballari and Mandya Lok Sabha constituencies vacated by those elected to the Assembly, the Congress-JD(S) alliance will face an early test of its resolve to work together.
The coordination committee, which includes Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah, besides Parameshwar, Danish Ali and KC Venugopal, is scheduled to meet on July 1 ahead of the first legislature session of the coalition government. The future of this government will depend on how quickly the leaders can reconcile their differences.