After two days of deliberations in Delhi, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka effected a major reshuffle on Sunday, removing 14 ministers and inducting 13 others.
The rejig is being seen as an attempt by the party to hit the refresh button as the government enters the final lap of its tenure. Karnataka Assembly elections are due in 2018.
Factors such as caste, age, resource generation and coteries were in play as the Congress chose the new ministers. The 14 who were removed from the 34-member ministry cried foul while those who failed to get a berth threatened to quit as legislators.
Congress veterans Kagodu Thimappa, the incumbent Speaker, and K R Ramesh Kumar, a former Speaker — who did not hide their unhappiness at being ignored for ministerial positions when the Congress came to power in 2013 — were inducted. It was seen as an effort to stop their constant sniping at the government.
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Priyank Kharge, son of Congress’s Lok Sabha leader Mallikarjun Kharge, also got a berth even as Kharge loyalists Baburao Chinchansur and Qamarul Islam lost their positions in the cabinet.
The exit of Chinchansur, a leader of the Scheduled Tribe Lamani community, was balanced by the induction of Rudrappa Lamani, a youth leader, while that of Qamarul Islam was offset by the induction of the younger Tanveer Sait, son of former Congress leader Aziz Sait. Another veteran, Shamanur Shivashankarappa, from the dominant Lingayat community, was dropped while his son S S Mallikarjun was inducted.
In another swap, sugar baron Satish Jharkhiholi, who was earlier the excise and small-scale industries minister, was dropped and his brother Ramesh Jharkhiholi was inducted.
Mining businessman-turned-politician Santosh Lad — who was earlier a minister of state for infrastructure before being forced to quit as his company was being investigated by a Lokayukta SIT for illegal mining — returned with cabinet rank. Following his selection, Lad said his name was cleared as his firm was cleared of all illegal mining charges.
Wealthy educationist M R Seetharam, a two-term Congress MLA from Bengaluru who is now a member of the state legislative council, made his maiden foray as a minister.
Former Congress MLA and BJP MP Manorama Madhwaraj’s son Pramod Madhwaraj, a first-time MLA from Udupi, was among the young faces inducted into the cabinet in place of veteran leaders from the coastal region like Vinay Kumar Sorakke and Abhaychandra Jain.
Among the ministers who were dropped, former MPs V Srinivas Prasad and M H Ambareesh expressed their displeasure. Prasad, who was revenue minister, accused Siddaramaiah of protecting his coterie of ministers. He also accused Mallikarjun Kharge of choosing his son over loyalists.
With the Mandya region in the Gowda heartland having no representation in the cabinet, supporters of actor -turned-politician Ambareesh staged protests in the region.
Labour minister P T Parameshwar Naik from the mining district of Bellary, who was recently in the news for his standoff with police officer Anupama Shenoy, was removed too.
Shivaraj Tangadagi, who was in charge of minor irrigation and was linked to a number of irregularities in the Koppal region, was dropped. Primary education minister Kimmane Rathnakar, who was under fire after multiple question paper leaks in the course of pre-university exams this year, also lost his berth.
The caste equation in the refurbished Congress government is dominated by Lingayats — who typically align with the BJP — followed by Dalits and then other communities like Vokkaligas and backward castes, including Siddaramaiah’s Kuruba community.
Vokkaliga leader D K Shivakumar, who is the energy minister, is widely tipped to be the new chief of the state Congress unit.