Siddaramaiah, who took over as chief minister May 13 after the Congress returned to power defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party in the May assembly elections, has been on the defensive since Jan 1 when Shivakumar and Baig were made cabinet ministers as he had resisted pressure for over seven months to induct them in the cabinet.
It was widely believed in political circles that he had kept Shivakumar out of the cabinet since he was facing charges of illegal mining though he is a prominent leader of the Vokkaliga community over which the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) headed by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda also wields influence.
Shivakumar's induction has been opposed by several admirers of Siddaramaiah, led by 94-year-old freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy. Noted Kannada writer and Jnanpith awardee U. R. Ananthamurthy also expressed dismay over Siddaramaiah backtracking on his stand of not making lawmakers facing corruption charges ministers.
The chief minister, however, has been defending his move saying Shivakumar and Baig were only facing charges and neither has been pronounced guilty by any court.
He has denied that he inducted them into the council of ministers at the diktat of the party high command, with which the two, particularly Shivakumar, had been lobbying hard for the last seven months.
Irrespective of whether Siddaramaiah has taken the two on his own or after a directive from the high command, the development has come in handy for the opposition, especially the BJP, to berate the chief minister for his U-turn.
The move is a boon for the BJP as it was searching for a powerful campaign issue against the Congress in the state for the Lok Sabha polls due in April-May. More so as the BJP has just decided to take back its former leader B.S. Yeddyurappa though he too is fighting several corruption cases.
The party has been quick to take the initiative to organise a state-wide protest Jan 6 against Siddaramaiah making 'tainted' lawmakers ministers. The protest will be held at all district centres, state BJP president Pralhad Joshi said in Bangalore on Thursday.
Besides facing flak from his admirers as well as opponents, Siddaramaiah also has to mollify several senior state Congress leaders who are upset that their claim to be ministers has been ignored though they were not facing any corruption charges.
The chief minister says he will talk to these lawmakers and pacify them.
Siddaramaiah may or may not succeed in this task and may well have to seek the Congress high command's intervention to prevent the dissatisfaction among his party legislators intensifying.
He has surely opened himself and his party to attack from the BJP and the JD-S as the state gets into election mode soon.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress, then in the opposition, won just six of the 28 seats from the state while the BJP bagged 19 and the JD-S three.
After the party returned to power in May Siddaramaiah and other state Congress leaders were gung-ho that they will capture more than 20 Lok Sabha seats this time.
By making 'tainted' lawmakers ministers, the Congress party may have now made its task all that harder.
(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 04-01-2014)