Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy (R).
Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy (R).

Karnataka: Portfolio allocation could be a big challenge for Congress

The Congress party would have to bring in all communities as it would like to be seen as an 'umbrella' organization representing all castes, without ceding the Vokkaliga base to the JD(S), analysts say

Bengaluru:After agreeing to hand over the chief minister’s post to the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), its junior partner in Karnataka’s coalition government, the Congress party faces a further challenge as it tries to strike a caste and community balance in the distribution of key ministries.

Allocations for the JD(S) are a comparatively easier matter as it is largely seen representing the interests of the politically dominant Vokkaligas. The Congress party, on the other hand, would have to bring in all communities as it would like to be seen as an “umbrella" organization representing all castes, without ceding the Vokkaliga base to the JD(S), analysts say.

“They (Congress) cannot give up Vokkaligas completely to the JD(S). They will need to challenge them on Vokkaliga territory also," Narendar Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) said.

The Congress and JD(S) are considered the two main players in South Karnataka, a Vokkaliga-dominated region. Although partners in the new government the two may battle it out in next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

Adding to the problem is the complex nature of discussions between the two parties. These include subjects such as whether to accommodate defectors from the JD(S) to Congress in the new administration; honouring the JD(S) manifesto pledge for a Rs53,000 crore farm loan waiver; and the distribution of plum portfolios like finance, home, agriculture and irrigation, according to a senior All India Congress Committee (AICC) member, who sought anonymity.

In the recently concluded assembly elections, the Congress won 78 seats, the JD(S) 38 (including one by its pre-poll ally, Bahujan Samaj Party) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 104 seats in the 222 assembly seats that went to the polls on 12 May. The Congress reached out to the JD(S) and supported H.D. Kumaraswamy for the top job. The Congress has got 22 of the 34 ministries while the JD(S) has 12, including the post of CM, in the coalition government.

Though the government proved its majority on Friday, the two parties have spent a good portion of their time since 15 May dismissing reports of discord.

Compounding the problem is the high demand for ministries coming in from Congress legislators, including Vokkaliga strongman D.K. Shivakumar, the AICC member cited above said.

Shivakumar, the man credited with keeping Congress legislators safe from any poaching attempts by the BJP, has asked to be made a minister as well as the chief of the state unit of the Congress, the person quoted above said.

With incumbent Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president G.Parameshwara made the deputy chief minister, the party is trying to find a replacement.

Pani said the Congress will have to look at a “Lingayat-heavy" distribution as the highest number of legislators are from this community, believed to be the single-largest caste group in the state. However, it would also like to cater to all communities, including Muslims, backward classes and Dalits —the AHINDA support base which propelled the party to power in 2013.

Former Union minister and newly elected Congress legislator from Jamkhandi, Siddu Nyamagouda, who was also a ministerial aspirant, died in a road accident near Bagalkot district on Monday.

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