More than six months after the formation of the coalition government between the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular (JDS), the coalition coordination committee has announced the cabinet expansion.
Siddaramaiah, on Wednesday, 5 December, announced that the government will get a full cabinet on 22 December.
While the coalition hopes the announcement would pacify several anxious MLAs from both parties, the announcement comes amidst several incidents threatening the stability of the coalition, especially the Congress.
A series of incidents, including a senior Congress MLA visiting a resort and announcing several MLAs are unhappy, to many MLAs citing horoscopes to say the expansion was unlikely, have become a cause of concern for the coalition leaders.
MLA Inspects Resort
The first signs of the trouble began two days before the announcement of the decision to expand the cabinet. The media in the state went into a tizzy on Monday, 3 December, when Congress leader Satish Jarkiholi was spotted inspecting a resort in Belagavi district.
The politics in Belagavi, which has the second highest number of seats in Karnataka after Bengaluru, has been controlled by the Jarkiholi brothers. The political power of the five Jarkiholi brothers – Ramesh, Satish, Balachandra, Bhishmi and Lankan – is linked to the fortune they have amassed from their sugar business.
Satish and his older brother Ramesh had threatened to rebel against the Congress party a few months back, after they were outraged by senior Congress leader DK Shivakumar’s attempts to assert his influence in Belagavi.
DK Shivakumar had attempted a coup in the presidential election of a local cooperative bank in Belagavi, which was important for the Jarkiholi brother’s business interests. Following this, Jarkiholi had threatened to rebel and DK Shivakumar was forced to back out.
On Monday, however, Jarkiholi dismissed questions about the resort saying that he had casually visited the place but there were no other intentions.
MLAs Are Not Happy: Jarkiholi
But a day after dismissing his resort visit, Jarkiholi returned with a loaded statement on Tuesday, 4 December. Addressing the media in Belagavi, he said: "Some of them are not happy. They may not be 25 to 30 in numbers but there are 6 to 7 of them. MLAs are unhappy, and our leadership is convincing them."
During his showdown with DK Shivakumar, there were speculations of several disgruntled MLAs supporting Jarkiholi. This was used by Jarkiholi during the meeting with the Congress high command to demand removing DK Shivakumar as the district-in-charge of North Karnataka’s Ballari district.
Jarkiholi reiterated that he will not be leaving the party but claimed that he was more powerful than many ministers. "I had a word with our president Dinesh Gundu Rao on this issue. The high command is active, and our state leadership is working on it," he said.
The Leaked Phone Call
Even though Jarkiholi insisted he was not rebelling, his presence at the resort and statement that followed ruffled the feathers of many Congress leaders following a leaked call recording.
Recording of an unverified phone call, alleged to be between an associate of senior BJP leader and mining baron B Sriramulu and a Dubai-based businessman, began doing the rounds in the media. The associate, in the audio file, is heard asking for funds for the defection of Congress MLAs.
In the recording, Sriramalu’s associate is heard saying: “Yeddyurappa and Sriramulu have started Operation Kamala once again. They are planning to hold talks with 10 MLAs.”
The associate further goes on to name the MLAs whom the party leaders are approaching. The list included Satish Jarkiholi, Ramesh Jarkiholi and several MLAs from North Karnataka.
Sriramulu, however, dismissed the contents of the tape and called it a conspiracy by the coalition government. But the Congress party held protests against the BJP’s horse-trading tactics.
MLAs Skeptical of Cabinet Expansion
While the speculations over horse trading are intensifying after the decision to expand the cabinet, several MLAs have expressed their concerns over the cabinet expansion being postponed. Instead of a political crisis, their reasons were to do with astrology.
Several MLAs are of the opinion that cabinet expansion will not take place on 22 December, citing "Shoonya Masa", which is considered inauspicious.
According to them, the expansion will only take place after Lok Sabha polls and the date has been announced with an intention to pacify disgruntled MLAs. They pointed out that the cabinet was once put off by Kumaraswamy citing Pitru Paksha – the day when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors.
Many of these MLAs are planning to skip the Assembly session from Monday, in protest.
Finally, for Siddaramaiah and the coalition coordination committee a tough task of pacifying several discontent MLAs in both parties is ahead.
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