With the likelihood of disgruntled Congress MLAs in Karnataka boycotting an Assembly session starting on December 10 to pressurise their party to accommodate them in the state cabinet, the Congress-JDS coalition has taken a decision to postpone the expansion of the state cabinet.
A meeting of the coordination committee of the coalition government, chaired by Congress leader Siddaramaiah and comprising Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, on Wednesday decided to postpone cabinet expansion plan — earlier scheduled for December 9 — to December 22.”
“We wanted to expand the cabinet on December 9, but since the state Assembly is set to begin in a few days and since we have not discussed with Rahul Gandhi, we have decided to carry out cabinet expansion on December 22, soon after the Assembly session. We will also appoint some MLAs as chairmen of state corporations on the same day,” Siddaramaiah said after a meeting of the committee.
As many as six MLAs will also be appointed as parliamentary secretaries, Siddaramaiah said. However, he denied the decision to postpone the expansion was influenced by dissidents.
Several Congress MLAs have been threatening dissidence in the government, which has a fragile majority of 116 (80 Congress and 36 JDS) seats in the 224-member state assembly as a pressure tactic to push for their representation in the Cabinet.
A faction in the Congress, headed by the Jharkiholi brothers of Belagavi — Satish and Ramesh — who are members of the sizeable Valmiki Nayak scheduled tribe, have emerged as a rallying point for several Scheduled Tribe MLAs from the Ballari region to push for their candidature for cabinet posts.
The Jharkiholi brothers, who in the past were Siddaramaiah’s allies, have dropped subtle hints about the government landing in trouble if they do not have a say in the cabinet expansion.
While Ramesh Jharkiholi is a minister in the government, Satish Jharkiholi is a former minister who has aspirations of becoming the chief minister.
The brothers in recent months are said to be engaged in a bitter political dispute with senior Congress leader D K Shivakumar — who last month helped the Congress win the Ballari Lok Sabha seat — for control of politics in the Belagavi region.
Siddaramaiah claimed the dispute was a “creation of the media”. “Satish Jharkiholi has never said that he is leaving the Congress party. As far as I know no Congress MLA will leave the party. There is no question of the coalition being destabilised,’’ he said.
There are as many six cabinet vacancies available to the Congress and one to the JDS in the 34-member cabinet (22 posts for Congress and 12 for the JDS), and as many as 30 positions on boards and corporations (20 for Congress and 10 for JDS).
Some MLAs in the reckoning for ministerial posts have expressed doubts of a cabinet expansion happening till next year’s general elections. “I do not think the cabinet expansion will take place on December 22. It will be postponed again,’’ said J N Ganesh, a Scheduled Tribe MLA from the Ballari region.