Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy expanded his cabinet on Friday by inducting two Independent MLAs in an apparent move to give stability to his 13-month-old wobbly government.
R Shankar and H Nagesh were sworn in as cabinet ministers, months after they withdrew support to the government and sided with the BJP before making a U-turn to move close to the ruling coalition.
The exercise is seen as a move to quell growing dissent within the coalition and to ensure that the two lawmakers don’t jump the ship once again.
Shankar was inducted from the Congress’ share and Nagesh from the JD(S) quota in the ministry. Under the coalition arrangement, of the total 34 ministerial positions, the Congress and JD(S) have shared 22 and 12 berths respectively.
With the two independents in the government, the coalition strength in the 224-member assembly stands at 118 (Congress-78, JD(S)-37, BSP-1 and Independents-2), besides the Speaker. The BJP has 105 MLAs.
Prior to the expansion, three posts were vacant– two from JD(S) and one from Congress.
Governor Vajubhai Vala administered the oath of office and secrecy to the new ministers at a ceremony at Raj Bhavan.
Ahead of the swearing-in, Shankar met Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and submitted to him a letter to merge his Karnataka Prajnavanta Janata Paksha (KPJP) with the Congress.
Though the names of A H Vishwanath, who had recently resigned as JD(S) state president, and MLC B M Farooq were doing the rounds for the third vacant post, the JD(S) leadership decided to keep the post vacant for now.
Shankar had served as forest minister in the Kumaraswamy government in the initial stages, while Nagesh, a former Congressman, had contested and won as an Independent after not getting the party ticket in 2018 assembly polls.
In the ministry rejig in December last year, Shankar was dropped from the cabinet.
He along with Nagesh had then sided with the BJP and written to the Governor withdrawing support to the government.
As the BJP failed in its alleged attempts to topple the coalition and form the government, the two lawmakers again allied with the ruling coalition.
The two were inducted overlooking the claims of several senior leaders, particularly in the Congress, who are sulking ever since they failed to make it to the ministry earlier.
Other than Siddaramaiah and top ministers, most of the Congress leaders’ and senior legislators like H K Patil, Ramalinga Reddy, B C Patil and Sudhakar, who are ministerial aspirants, skipped the swearing-in ceremony.
While KPCC President Dinesh Gundu Rao was conspicuous by his absence, Vishwanth too did not attend the swearing-in.
According to reports, the coalition leaders are likely to appoint a few disgruntled MLAs as Chairmen to some boards and corporations, that are still vacant or by asking some senior bureaucrats holding the post to vacate.
The expansion slated for June 12 was rescheduled to Friday as a three-day state mourning was in place due to the death of Jnanpith awardee and renowned playwright Girish Karnad on Monday.
Following a rout in the Lok Sabha polls and growing disgruntlement within, the coalition leaders after a series of negotiations had come to a decision to go in for cabinet expansion by filling in three vacant posts.
According to coalition sources, a cabinet rejig is also on the cards after some time, during which a few ministers will be asked to step down to make way for others.
The coalition leaders fear onslaught by the BJP to destabilise the government after the saffron party won 25 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state, leaving Congress and JD(S) to share one seat each.
The BJP supported independent candidate, Sumalatha Ambareesh, had won in Mandya.