Congress remains stuck with cabinet formation (Karnataka Newsletter)
Six months after returning to power in Karnataka and almost equal time ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress remains stuck over completing cabinet formation in the state.
The party has also not been able to decide whether it should fill the four vacancies in the 34-member council of ministers and reward party loyalists by appointing them as heads of government-run corporations and boards ahead or after the Lok Sabha polls due next April-May. (Posted on 22-11-2013)
Under the law, Karnataka can have a 34-member council of ministers, including the chief minister.
The indecision is induced by the fear of dissidence as there are too many aspirants for a place in the cabinet and to head the boards and corporations as the post comes with perks and privileges of a junior minister.
While the selection of Siddaramaiah as chief minister after the party won 122 seats in the 225-member assembly in the May polls was without much glitch, ministry-making has been a difficult exercise for the party from the beginning.
Siddaramaiah assumed office May 13 and added 29 minsters in two batches within a fortnight, leaving four berths to be filled.
Since then he, state Congress chief G. Parameshwara and many ministerial aspirants have made several visits to Delhi but the Congress high command has been unable to give the go-ahead for filling the vacancies.
Siddaramaiah and Parameshwara were in Delhi again early this week and met Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
This led to intense speculation in the state media that the Congress high command had finally given the green signal for filling the vacancies as dragging the issue was only accentuating the party's problems.
However, on returning to Bangalore, Siddaramaiah denied that the cabinet expansion issue was discussed with Gandhi, a clear indication that prolonging the issue for over six months has only made it intractable for the party.
The party seems unable to decide even on naming heads to boards and corporations as the chief minister said the issue was "broadly discussed" with Gandhi and the appointments will be made "at the earliest".
This not the first time, though, that Siddaramaiah has harkened to the "at the earliest" expression.
The "earliest" time may well be next month if not some time next year as both the government and the party will be busy with the 10-day winter session of the legislature beginning Nov 25.
Once that is over, Siddaramaiah, the ministers, Parameshwara and other leaders will have to devote time to shortlist candidates for the 28 Lok Sabha seats from the state as the party high command wants the names by December-end.
With both the central and state Congress leadership wanting to bag more than 20 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka, the issue of filling up ministerial vacancies and naming board and corporation heads may take a backseat to avoid dissidence marring the party's prospects.
The Congress had won just six seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
However, its morale has been boosted by the victory in the assembly elections and the August bypolls to two Lok Sabha seats from Bangalore Rural and neighbouring Mandya, both considered strongholds of the Janata Dal-Secular led by former prime minister H. D. Deve Gowda.
The party will be hoping that its expectation of a good performance in the general elections will not be derailed by its indecisiveness in completing ministry formation and rewarding party loyalists with chairpersonships of boards and corporations.
(V. S. Karnic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Posted on 22-11-2013)