It has been a week since HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) took oath on May 23 as Karnataka chief minister and G Parameshwara of the Congress as deputy chief minister. But the rest of the state cabinet has not been appointed as the allies are vying for lucrative, revenue-generating portfolios.
The problem has become so acute that Kumaraswamy on Monday said that, given the alliance arrangement, he was at the mercy of the Congress to proceed.
When the results of the state election were declared earlier this month, no party had an absolute majority in the 224-member house. Though the Bharatiya Janata Party won 104 seats, it was unable to cobble together the numbers to form a government. The Congress with 78 seats and the Janata Dal (Secular) with 37 decided to stake their claim together. Though the Congress has more seats, it has given the chief minister’s position to its ally.
But negotiations for the rest of the cabinet portfolios are proving to be more contentious. Congress officials said that finance, revenue, public works and geology and mines have become the most sought-after ministries, with leaders of both parties attempting to drive hard bargains for them.
A former minister who requested anonymity said that state Congress leaders were of the firm opinion that if the Janata Dal (Secular) wants the finance portfolio, it should be willing to trade home, public works and geology and mines to the Congress.
According to the leader, the Janata Dal (Secular) has been told in no uncertain terms that it was important for the Congress to show its own members that the alliance is one of equals. The Congress needs to show that it is not playing second fiddle despite to its ally since it has twice the number of MLAs that the JD (S) has.
“It has been decided that we will get 22 of the 34 ministries,” the leader said. “But these 22 cannot be vague ones.”
Internally, there are differences in the Congress regarding the finance ministry. While one group, which apparently includes Deputy Chief Minister Parameshwara, feels that the finance portfolio is crucial for public relations because most government welfare schemes have to be sanctioned by this minister, others feel that finance is only an “approval ministry” and has nothing to offer on its own.
The crucial ministries have been identified as public works, which has the largest budget in the state; geology and mines, which controls crucial resources including sand; and revenue, which has hold on land. This apart, the Congress wants rural development, education and backward classes welfare. Home also assumes importance because it controls internal security.
Meanwhile, the Janata Dal (Secular) feels that since it will have only 12 members in the cabinet, giving away crucial portfolios to the Congress will increase chances of dissent. “The BJP is waiting for a chance,” a senior leader said on condition of anonymity. “We cannot take the risk of alienating our MLAs.”
Initially, there was a suggestion that the tenure of the chief minister should be shared between the allies over the government’s five-year term, but this has been left for future discussions. Now, the Janata Dal (Secular) is proposing a model by which ministries could be rotated. “One party in the alliance cannot say that it will keep all ministries that will give good name to the government,” the leader said.
Striking a balance
The Congress is looking to strike a balance between caste and regions in allocating ministries. It wants at least two substantial portfolios allotted to Lingayats, a community that the party feels is angry following the controversy over the party’s decision to give it minority religion status.
The problem of Cabinet formation has been accentuated by the fact that Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are abroad on a personal trip. “They had asked the state party unit to sort out all differences before they return in a few days,” a Congress official said.
From the Congress side, Parameshwara, former chief minister Siddaramaiah, senior leader DK Shivakumar and KC Venugopal are holding discussions with Kumaraswamy on the portfolios. Officials said once the portfolio distribution is decided, the parties will have to confirm the names of the ministers, which, given the competition within, may also prove to be a tough proposition.