As the Lok Sabha poll debacle pushed the ruling Congress-JDS coalition in Karnataka into a greater turmoil, leaders of the two parties on Wednesday held intense consultations to avert a potential existential crisis to the one-year-old HD Kumaraswamy ministry.
Rushed to Bengaluru by the party high command on a damage control mission, Congress general secretary KC Venugopal held meetings with Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and senior party leaders and ministers to save the coalition from an intensified BJP onslaught.
Coalition worries have been compounded by the BJP’s spectacular win with 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in its pocket, leaving a mere one seat each to the Congress and JDS, which, despite a joint fight, were swept away by the Modi wave.
Buoyed by the landslide win in the LS polls, the BJP, which emerged as the single-largest party in the 224-member assembly in the May polls last year, is reportedly eyeing to capture power amid reports of a rift between the coalition partners.
The BJP had won 104 seats and added one more to its tally in the by-polls held along with Lok Sabha elections. The Congress had won the Kundgol by-poll.
The ruling combine has 117 members — 78 of the Congress, 37 of the JD(S), one of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and one Independent.
Plans for cabinet expansion or reshuffle were discussed by Venugopal with Kumaraswamy, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and Coordination Committee chief Siddaramaiah, Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara and Pradesh Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao, Congress sources said.
Venugopal also met several Congress ministers in the coalition government and will take part in the CLP meeting scheduled later in the evening.
During the meeting, the leaders discussed the electoral debacle and alleged threat to the coalition from the BJP, Congress sources said.
According to sources, the leaders at the meeting were unable to reach any consensus on whether to go in for cabinet expansion by filling three vacant posts or reshuffle by asking a few ministers to step down and make way for the disgruntled lawmakers.
A section of party leaders, including Siddaramaiah, is said to be of the opinion that cabinet expansion may be suitable, as any attempt for reshuffle may further worsen the situation, when the Chief Minister initially came up with the suggestion of cabinet reshuffle.
Several senior ministers not willing to give up ministerial berths now will make the cabinet reshuffle a hardball, sources said.
Leaders are now expected to take a call on this after wider consultation with legislators and the Congress high command.
Of the total 34 ministerial positions in Karnataka, Congress and JD(S) have shared 22 and 12 respectively. Currently, three posts are vacant, two from JD(S) and one from Congress.
Even as the coalition leaders were struggling to save the government, ministerial aspirants started lobbying, with a few of them even meeting Venugopal Wednesday with a request.
Many Congress legislators have expressed strong reservation against priority being given to disgruntled MLAs while sidelining the loyalists.
With the growing number of aspirants and fewer posts in hand, the proposed reshuffle has become more complicated.
Emerging from the meeting, Siddaramaiah said, “..no decision has been taken. Today legislature party is meeting after that we will again sit and take a decision.”
Dinesh Gundu Rao, without divulging much, said the discussion was centred on election results and the way ahead.
“There is CLP meeting in the evening, where we will gather their opinion and suggestions, again will sit and discuss with general secretary tomorrow, and decide on the way ahead,” he said.
Stating that the government was stable and will continue to remain stable, Rao said, “We don’t have any doubts, all are together and are supporting us. I don’t want to speak about cabinet expansion or reshuffle because CLP is there, we will discuss and certainly take some decision.”
Parameshwara, who too was not willing to comment on cabinet reshuffle or expansion, said there was no confusion, maintaining that the government was stable.
Amid simmering discontent within the Congress, the coalition leaders fear that the BJP, spurred by the Lok Sabha poll outcome, may poach some MLAs.
Rebel Congress MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi, who has been hobnobbing with the BJP for some time, had threatened to resign from the party along with some MLAs after the Lok Sabha polls.
Meanwhile, reports and pictures of Independent MLA Nagesh and KPJP MLA R Shankar meeting Jarkiholi on Wednesday has added to the coalition’s worry.
The BJP had predicted the collapse of the coalition after the LS poll results, claiming that 20 odd Congress MLAs were unhappy and may take “a decision” anytime.
Over the last two days, Kumaraswamy himself met several disgruntled legislators, including Jarkiholi’s confidant and Athani MLA Mahesh Kumathalli, and is said to have promised to look into their issues.
He is also said to have given an assurance about including Jarkiholi in the cabinet.