Congress struggles with ministry formation, appointments

Bangalore, Sep 14 (IANS) The Congress rode to power in Karnataka four months ago winning 122 seats in the 225-member assembly, but the comfortable majority in the house is still not helping the party complete the formation of the ministry.

The return to power, on its own after nine years, has also meant headaches in accommodating party leaders to head various government-run boards and corporations.

The problem in both the cases is too many aspirants for ministership as well as chairpersonship of the boards and corporations, positions that bring with them perks enjoyed by junior ministers.

There are four vacancies in the council of ministers and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has not yet filled them.

According to the law, Karnataka can have a 34-member ministerial council, including the chief minister. The delay in completing ministry formation and appointing heads to boards and corporations is leading to rising discontent among the aspirants. One of them is even using the illegal mining issue to embarrass the party.

Mining baron Anil Lad, who has been named in the Karnataka Lokayukta report on illegal mining, early this week questioned why he was not made a minister while his cousin Santosh Lad, also a mining lord, has been accommodated.

In a way, this is self-inflicted embarrassment for the Congress.

Anil Lad was a Rajya Sabha member but quit the seat to enter the state assembly after the May 5 elections.

Incidentally Anil Lad was earlier a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator while Santosh Lad was with the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S).

The illegal mining scandal, which rocked the first BJP government in Karnataka in 2008-13, is a sensitive issue for the Congress also as it is yet act on the Lokayukta's report on the issue.

Siddaramaiah, state Congress president G. Parameshwara and other party leaders had gone on a 300-km 'padayatra' from Bangalore to Bellary, the iron-ore rich district, during the BJP rule to demand action against the Reddy brothers, G. Janardhana, G. Karunakara and G. Somashekara.

At that time, Janardhana and Karunakara were ministers in the BJP government and Somashekara was a legislator.

Janardhana has been in jail since Sept 5, 2011.

Anil Lad has given six months to the Congress to make him a minister. He has, however, not spelt out what he intends to do if he is not accommodated in the council of ministers.

Santosh Lad, as expected, rejected his cousin's contention that he too was facing charges of illegal mining.

Parameshwara has sought to calm down Anil Lad, saying that his cousin's name does not figure in the Lokayukta report while Anil Lad and his companies had been mentioned.

He also tried to please Anil Lad by saying that he is capable of being a minister and will get an opportunity once he is cleared of the charges.

Anil Lad's public demand comes even as the Congress is struggling to keep another strong contender for berth, D.K. Shivakumar, from open revolt. He has been kept out of the cabinet as he is facing several charges.

A sort of temporary truce has been worked out with Shivakumar as his brother D.K. Suresh was given the Congress ticket to contest the Aug 21 bypoll to the Bangalore Rural Lok Sabha seat. Suresh won, defeating JD-S nominee Anita Kumaraswamy, daughter-in-law of party president and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

On accommodating party leaders as board and corporation heads, the ruling dispensation has been buying time, saying that consultations are on with the party high command in New Delhi to get its green signal.

With the state unit now busy short-listing names of possible candidates for the Lok Sabha elections due early next year, the Congress has to perform a balancing act to ensure that the discontent does not hurt its electoral prospects.

The state sends 28 members to the Lok Sabha. The Congress had won just six seats in the 2009 elections.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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