A delayed expansion

Print edition : January 14, 2005

The expansion of the N. Dharam Singh Ministry in Karnataka has come seven months after it assumed power. The coalition now needs to focus on fulfilling its electoral promises.

in Bangalore

The new Cabinet Ministers R. Ramalinga Reddy, Y. Nagappa, H.K. Patil, Gurupadappa Nagamarpalli and R.V. Deshpande taking the oath of office in Bangalore.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

THE Congress-Janata Dal(Secular) coalition government in Karnataka, led by N. Dharam Singh, has perhaps set a record by running the State administration for nearly seven months with only 10 Ministers. Twenty important ministries were rudderless during this period, with no Ministers at the helm. With the coalition partners finally coming to an agreement after months of hard bargaining over ministerial appointees and portfolios, the second - and long-anticipated - expansion of the Ministry took place on December 15.

Twenty Ministers were sworn in, nine from the Congress and 11 from the JD(S) , taking the total number of Ministers to 32 - two short of the constitutional ceiling of 34, which is 15 per cent of the 225-strong Legislative Assembly. The coalition Ministry was formed on May 28, 2004, with Dharam Singh and Siddaramaiah taking office as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively. The first expansion of the Ministry took place on June 5 when 10 Ministers, five each from the JD(S) and the Congress, were sworn in.

THE delay in constituting a full government reflects the mistrust between the two parties that contested the elections as rivals. With 58 members in the Assembly (as against 65 of the Congress), the JD(S) could hardly be treated by the Congress as a "junior" partner in the coalition. Whatever the level of acrimony between them, the two parties need each other to remain in power, and importantly, to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from queering the pitch for government. Even as the negotiations between the two parties were taking their tortuous course, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, national president of the JD(S), kept the pressure on the government through frequent public comments on the working of the government. His first salvo against the government, soon after the first Ministry expansion, was in connection with the controversial Mysore-Bangalore Infrastructure Corridor. He wrote letters to the Chief Minister and to the Governor alleging irregularities and corruption in the project, while indirectly alleging the involvement of former Congress Ministers. One of the reasons for the delay in the Ministry expansion was the insistence by the JD(S) that two former Ministers, R.V. Deshpande and D.K. Shivakumar, who it considers "tainted", be kept out of the Ministry. A compromise was finally arrived at. In the final allocation of portfolios, Deshpande, who was a senior Minister in the S. M. Krishna government, was given the Ministry of Cooperation, while D.K. Shivakumar was denied a berth.

Dharam Singh has had to navigate carefully the troubled waters of coalition politics, taking care to balance the interests of the Congress high command, ministerial aspirants in the Congress, and the JD(S), particularly Deve Gowda. The byelection to the Bidar Lok Sabha seat provided one excuse for delaying the Ministry expansion, the State Assembly elections in Maharashtra yet another. Although the functioning of the government was clearly hamstrung by the fact that for almost seven months only one-third of the ministries had Ministers heading them, no agreement could be reached on the Ministry expansion. The pressure from the JD(S) and the growing public disenchantment with a government that appeared to be non-serious about delivering on its promises finally brought about the much-awaited expansion.

OF the 20 new Ministers, seven have been Ministers before, while 13 are first-timers. H.K. Patil of the Congress, who was kept out of the first expansion despite his seniority and experience as a Minister, was given the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs. R. Ramalinga Reddy was given Primary and Secondary Education, a portfolio previously held by B.K. Chandrashekhar, who, surprisingly, has not found a place in the expanded Ministry. Gurupadappa Nagamarpalli was given Forest, Ecology and Environment; Dr. Y. Nagappa the Social Welfare portfolio; and Anjana Murthy Housing. B. Shivaram, whose induction was strongly opposed by the JD(S) as he is seen as belonging to the D.K. Shivakumar faction, was inducted as Minister for Information and Publicity, while Jabbar Khan Honalli has been given Minorities Welfare.

Karnataka has had a consistently poor record in appointing women Ministers. The only woman in the Cabinet in the present government (and the only woman MLA in the Congress) is T. Bhagirathi Marulasiddanagouda, who has, almost predictably, been given Women and Child Welfare.

H.C. Mahadevappa of the JD(S) has been allocated the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj portfolio. H.S. Mahadevaprasad heads the Food and Civil Supplies Ministry, N. Cheluvarayaswamy the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Iqbal Ansari that of Medical Education. Amaregounda L. Patil Bayyapur has been allocated the Ministry of Sugar, and R. Srinivas that of Horticulture. Although the JD(S) expected the Home portfolio to be given to its nominee, the Chief Minister has chosen to retain it for himself.

Caste, religion and community equations played their role in the choice of candidates. Of the 15 Congress entrants, seven are from the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities and another seven from the minorities, Schedule Caste and Other Backward Classes. A similar pattern prevails in respect of the new JD(S) entrants. Regional representation also appears to be skewed. Eight districts of a total of 27 districts in the State have no representation in the ministry, while 10 districts account for 23 Ministers out of a total of 32. Dharam Singh continues to hold several important portfolios. Apart from Home, these include the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms and Cabinet Affairs, the high-profile Information Technology and Bio-Technology Ministries and the Ministry of Kannada and Culture.

There is a great deal of heartburning amongst disappointed aspirants and their supporters in both parties. Following the Congress tradition, it was the party high command that finalised the list of Congress Ministers, and there are few in the party who are willing to take on the central leadership. The most disgruntled of the Congress aspirants are D.K. Shivakumar, A. Krishnappa and R. Roshan Baig, Ministers who carry the "tainted" tag conferred upon them by the JD(S).

With Deve Gowda remaining a power centre outside the government, the working of the coalition is unlikely to be smooth. But with the Ministry expansion, the groundwork has been completed for the coalition to fulfil its electoral mandate.

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