H.D. Kumaraswamy. Photo: Mint
H.D. Kumaraswamy. Photo: Mint

Karnataka: Alliance in trouble as CM Kumaraswamy accused of bias

Appointment of legislative council chairman revives multiple pain points for the coalition government in Karnataka

Bengaluru: The H.D. Kumaraswamy-led coalition government, accused of neglecting the northern part of Karnataka, was on Thursday was targeted by its own legislators for continuing to favour members from the southern part of the state for positions in the Cabinet and other important posts, deepening the already existent divide between the two parts.

By choosing Pratap Chandra Shetty, a Congress leader from coastal Karnataka (classified broadly as south) as the chairman of the legislative council, the government has revived the debate on regional imbalance, threatening to bring back dissent among its ranks before the 22 December Cabinet expansion.

The imbalance was highlighted during the ongoing winter session of the Karnataka legislature in Belagavi, about 500 kilometres from Bengaluru, which was established to address the very disparity it stands accused of practising.

The practice of favouring the south, which was apparently evident in the July budget, saw sections of the north reviving its separate statehood demand. Surgarcane growers and other farmers had also protested ahead of the session in Belagavi, claiming they were not getting good prices for their produce and wanted their dues to be cleared by sugar industries. On Wednesday, the government said only 800 people benefited from the 49,000 crore farm loan waiver till now, giving the Opposition and farmers room to attack the government.

The developments that saw two prominent leaders (S.R.Patil from the Congress and Bsavaraj Horatti from the JD(S)), not just from north Karnataka but from the dominant Lingayat community deny the position, exposing the government to attacks especially by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that claims to have gained support of the community, believed to be the single-largest community in the state.

Lingayats are the dominant caste grouping in the Mumbai-Karnataka region (in the north) and any sign of neglect from the government could result in the BJP gaining ahead of the next year’s elections.

Since the party did not get a majority on its own in May, the Congress, which extended support to the Janata Dal (Secular) to retain power in Karnataka, avoided revisiting the Lingayat issue and sidelined all those who led the movement demanding a minority religion status for the community.

M.B.Patil, who lost out on a Cabinet berth for leading the pro-minority religion status demand movement from the Congress, said that denying positions to S.R.Patil had hurt the community. The government had earlier denied Horatti, another prominent Lingayat leader from the JD(S) a chance to continue as chairman of the council. “There are five ministers from the north that has 41 legislators, while there are nine ministers out of 36 legislators from the south," Patil said on Thursday.

Not having gained from the initial decision to accord the minority religion status to Lingayats and later conceding almost all of the Vokkaliga community’s support base to the JD (S), it appears the Congress has fallen back to wooing its traditional support base of minorities, backward classes and dalits ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“Whether the government is trying to isolate the Lingayats has to be seen with the imminent Cabinet expansion," a Bengaluru-based political analyst said requesting anonymity. The Congress has seen its share of dissent from senior leaders who were denied a Cabinet post and if the practice of favouring the south continues, it would make the party’s stand on the community clear.

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