After the forging of a quick post-poll coalition to keep the BJP at bay in Karnataka, the new JD (Secular)-Congress government got off to a bumpy start. Its first test came from within. No sooner had the 25 ministers of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s cabinet been sworn in on June 6 than a storm struck—some veteran leaders had been passed over for new faces.
From the Congress, there were several such. The most prominent was M.B. Patil, a Lingayat leader who, as minister in the previous government, had led the demand for a separate religion for his sect, leading many to surmise that the issue—a controversial one amid elections in May—might have contributed to his exclusion. Also left out were Shamanur Shivashankarappa and Eshwar Khandre, though both opposed any move that would create a divide between Lingayats and Veerashaivas. JD(S) leader Basavaraj Horatti said as much, pointing out that leaders associated with the movement from both parties, including himself, suffered the same fate.
However, CM Kumaraswamy reached out to pacify Patil before the Congress high-command in Delhi stepped in. Factional tussles within Congress, says a leader, have also led to some leaders’ exclusion. “It’s more a question of who can bargain and get more for themselves,” he says, admitting that much of the heartburn could have been handled better.
Political observers agree that the move by the previous Congress government led by Siddaramaiah to recognise Lingayats as a religious minority didn’t pay off electorally. The Congress tally declined from 122 seats (in 2013) to 78 in 2018. But the Jagathika Lingayat Mahasabha, a forum that spearheaded the demand, disputes that claim and even took out advertisements in newspapers to claim wide popular support.
“On the other hand, those selected to represent the community are novices (at ministerial positions),” says political commentator Harish Ramaswamy. “The Congress expected its legislators to create some problems. That’s why it has kept six seats vacant. They have not yet filled these because they want a reality-check,” he says. Besides, in a bid to placate disappointed leaders, party functionaries are also speaking of a two-year tenure after which a reshuffle of ministers will be carried out based on performance.
Even among newly-minted cabinet ministers, there was disgruntlement over allocation of portfolios. For INStance, G.T. Deve Gowda of the JD(S), who defeated Siddaramaiah in the Chamundeshwari assembly seat in Mysore (Siddaramaiah had contested from a second seat, Badami, which he won), complained that he was given the Higher Education portfolio though he only studied upto the eighth standard.
Amid all this, the coalition partners have fought two assembly bypolls in Bangalore, with JD(S) supporting the Congress in the recently-held Jayanagar by-election. “Within both parties, there is a sense that everyone will work together and that these are temporary hiccups that would get resolved,” says the Congress leader. Earlier this month, the two parties said they have agreed to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in unison.
By Ajay Sukumaran in Bangalore