Bengaluru: The already delayed expansion of the Karnataka cabinet is likely to be pushed back further because of bypolls in three parliamentary and two assembly seats, scheduled to be held on 3 November, two people familiar with the development said.

The delay in filling the seven ministerial berths in the coalition government led by chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has threatened to fuel the simmering dissent within the government, especially in the Congress, which has refused to die down for the past four months since the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), came together to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power in Karnataka.

“It (cabinet expansion) is likely to be held only after the 3 November bypolls," one of the two people mentioned above said on condition of anonymity.

Karnataka Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao said that the expansion might be delayed as the party would want to focus on the upcoming bypolls and would not want any other issues to crop up before the elections.

Senior members of the Congress will meet on Tuesday in Bengaluru to discuss the matter, Rao added.

The delay has given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) some hope of returning to power as it requires just nine seats for a simple majority. Several protesting leaders are threatening to switch sides and go with the BJP. The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats, the Congress got 78 and now has 80, while the JD(S)-Bahujan Samaj Party combine won 38 seats in the 224-seat assembly.

The cabinet expansion was first slated to be held in the third week of September, as decided by the coordination and monitoring committee, headed by former chief minister Siddaramaiah.

A few days ago, Kumaraswamy had set the new deadline of 10 October for filling the ministerial berths and ending the growing dissent.

Of the seven vacant posts, six are to be filled up by the Congress. Some members of the party believe that the filling up of vacant berths could end some of the dissent, while others say that the exercise will also leave no room for placating leaders who have been left out, adding to the obstacles of the coalition government that aims to complete five years in office.

Some Congress legislators have likened the delay to the “killing of democracy" and “upholding dictatorship in the name of the party".

Karnataka is one of the few states still under Congress rule, and the dissent could seriously dent the party’s prospects of national revival.

The three parliamentary constituencies going to the polls on 3 November are Shivamogga, Ballari and Mandya, while the two assembly constituencies are Ramanagaram and Jamkhandi.

Though the seats in the parliamentary bypolls almost seem decided with parties holding the posts at the time they were vacated likely to return, the run-up to the elections would be a test for the JD(S)-Congress ahead of the general elections in 2019, which the two parties have decided to contest together.

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