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Congress sends envoy to Karnataka as Siddaramaiah videos cast shadow on JD(S) tie-up

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In one of the videos, the former chief minister is heard suggesting that the coalition government, sworn in last month, may not last beyond 2019.

Bengaluru: The Congress brass dispatched general secretary K.C. Venugopal to Bengaluru Thursday to control the fallout of two videos showing former chief minister Siddaramaiah pour scorn on the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led coalition government.

In one, Siddaramaiah raises questions about Kumaraswamy’s decision to present a full-fledged budget when he had announced one just this February, while the other has him suggesting that the government may not last beyond the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

The videos, surreptitiously recorded at a naturopathy centre where Siddaramaiah is staying, appear to be taking a toll on the month-old Janata Dal (S)-Congress government.

There’s been talk of resentment brewing among a section of Congress MLAs who were never too keen on the alliance to begin with. Basavakalyan legislator Narayan Rao, one of eight MLAs who called on Siddaramaiah, also the head of the coalition’s coordination committee, in the wake of the budget video, minced few words when talking about reports of differences.

“Will the coalition government survive if it neglects Siddaramaiah? It is because of him that the coalition government has come into existence. He is our leader,” he said.

The former chief minister’s party colleagues in the state have shot down rumours of a rift, seeking to put on a brave face instead.

“What outsiders say is irrelevant,” said state Congress president and deputy chief minister G. Parameshwara, adding that the government would last its full term.

“There is no such thing as is being projected, that the government will fall. We all will follow what Rahul Gandhi says,” senior Congress leader and minister D.K. Shivakumar, one of the architects of the alliance, said.

“There are a few people who are trying to create a hitch in this coalition, but we would like to reiterate that we will work for the welfare of the state and people,” he added.

“We have no problem at all, all things are going smoothly,” former union minister Veerappa Moily, who chairs the committee tasked with drafting the common minimum programme, told The Print. “There is no need to create an issue when there is none.”

“We have been asked to prepare a common minimum programme, and it is going smooth…we are matching the manifestos of the JD(S) and the Congress, and trying to maximise their impact,” he said.

The programme is scheduled to be presented before the coordination committee Friday, and a final decision on its implementation in the context of the budget will be taken by Saturday.


Despite the claims of peace, however, the fragility of the relationship was visible in the Congress’ decision to deploy Venugopal at once, as well as former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s statement that Kumaraswamy, his son, would certainly present the state budget on 5 July.

The videos seem to be the latest irritants in the uneasy alliance between the two former rivals that has witnessed a series of flashpoints since assuming office last month.

Budget: In February, on the threshold of the assembly election, the Siddaramaiah government had presented its populism-peppered last budget that introduced, among other sops, a universal health coverage scheme.

With Kumaraswamy planning to present another full-fledged budget just five months later, Siddaramaiah is not happy, and is heard suggesting in one of the videos that they could have continued with his budget.

It is tradition for a new government to present a budget, but sources said Kumaraswamy could have chosen to present a supplementary one. The chief minister, in fact, is believed to have ignored suggestions to this end and approached Congress president Rahul Gandhi directly for approval.

Deve Gowda, too, has come to his son’s defence, saying he could not have presented a supplementary budget since he wants to announce new schemes.

This upset many Congressmen who are less than enthusiastic about the coalition and fear Kumaraswamy may take credit for the Congress’ welfare schemes — particularly its farm loan waiver — to strengthen his party’s position in 2019.

The differences follow a tug-of-war between the two parties over the finance portfolio during discussions on portfolio distribution. It was reportedly Deve Gowda’s intervention that secured finance for the JD(S).

2019 polls: When they joined hands last month, the Congress and the JD(S) also decided to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election together. The state has 28 seats in the lower house, of which 17 were won by the BJP in 2014, nine by the Congress and two by the JD(S).

However, there is already a debate within the Congress over the JD(S)’ reported demand for most of southern Karnataka’s seats. The JD(S) currently has one Lok Sabha member (Deve Gowda; the party’s second MP resigned after winning the assembly election) and one in the Rajya Sabha (Krupendra Reddy).

There is already a demand within the JD(S) that Deve Gowda contest from the Vokkaliga heartland of Mandya, where it won all the assembly seats, as the former PM has promised his current constituency, Hassan, to grandson Prajwal.

Meanwhile, Siddaramaiah and his supporters are likely to insist on Mysuru in south Karnataka, which is also being eyed by the JD(S). The Congress fears the JD(S) may seek more than six seats, and this may deepen friction between the two partners.

While the Congress won more seats in the recent assembly election, it stepped back and offered the chief minister post to the JD(S) to foil the BJP’s attempts to form the government.

Cabinet expansion: According to the coalition agreement, the Congress was to get 22 ministerial berths and the JD(S) 12.

As of now, seven of the grand old party’s slots are yet to be filled up. Some members of the party believe that north Karnataka as well as Lingayats haven’t been given fair representation in the cabinet, triggering resentment in the Congress. This is reportedly why eight legislators flew aboard a chartered flight to Mangaluru to meet Siddaramaiah even though he was set to return to Bengaluru Thursday.

Boards and corporations: With only seven cabinet berths remaining, Congress leaders are reportedly eyeing appointments to boards and corporations.

According to the coalition agreement, all such appointments are to be cleared by the coordination committee in a 2:1 ratio favouring the Congress.

However, there are contesting demands from the coalition partners for the posts seen as most coveted, and the parties seem headed for a face-off because the Congress has reportedly made it clear that it had conceded the finance portfolio and won’t yield another inch.

The BJP is waiting and watching

The BJP, meanwhile, has decided to watch from the sidelines how the coalition’s relationship progresses.

Karnataka BJP chief B.S. Yeddyurappa rushed to meet party president Amit Shah as trouble brewed for Kumaraswamy, but the high command is reportedly too focused on 2019.

The former chief minister was reportedly told that he should wade into the chaos by way of a Kamala-like defection operation only if he was confident of toppling the government. If he couldn’t, he was told, he should work for the parliamentary elections.

Sources in the BJP said Shah had very clearly communicated to Yeddyurappa that he should not indulge in anything that would “embarrass” the party again. The party was left red-faced last month as Yeddyurappa had to resign as CM within 55 hours because he couldn’t muster enough numbers to pass a floor test.

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