The loss of his home constituency of Chamundeshwari in Mysuru in the Karnataka assembly elections six months ago had left former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in the back footing. Speculations were rife about a new wave in the Congress - one which put DK Shivakumar and Dr G Parameshwara, the Deputy CM of Karnataka, at the fore.
However, Siddaramaiah has once again proved his strength in the party: pulling the strings in the background, the leader proved his clout and support during the cabinet expansion, which took place on December 22.
Six out of eight ministerial berths were filled in by Siddaramaiah's loyalists. As the Congress Legislature Party Chief, Siddaramaiah successfully had MB Patil inducted into the Cabinet. Two Kuruba leaders - CS Shivalli and MTB Nagaraju - who are known Siddaramaiah loyalists, were also given Cabinet berths.
Even Satish Jarkiholi, who had played a crucial role in Siddaramaiah's victory in the Badami constituency, was inducted into the Cabinet during the expansion. Angered by the coalition's move to not assign a ministerial portfolio during the first round, Satish Jarkiholi had openly rebelled against the party.
In order to reward the Ballari Congress leaders for the victory in the bye-elections, PT Parameshwar Naik and E Tukaram were given Cabinet seats in the expansion. Siddaramaiah's move to include two strongmen from the Ballari region was also to ensure the Congress retains the Ballari Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 general elections.
By influencing the cabinet expansion, Siddaramaiah proved that his connections with the party's high command and senior leaders are still intact. Congress insiders say that Siddaramaiah's proximity to Rahul Gandhi has helped him retain his strength within the party. "After the assembly elections, Siddaramaiah has spent time and and put effort in Badami. Even though he lost in Chamundeshwari, he shifted his focus to strengthen the party's presence in the northern districts. He showed that the defeat did not affect him. The high command has always relied on his political acumen, which is why he is still powerful," a Congress leader said.
The rumblings of dissent
Soon after the names of the eight new ministers was announced, Ramesh Jarkiholi, who was dropped from the Cabinet in the expansion, has risen up in revolt. Ramesh Jarkiholi was benched pending good behaviour, especially after he openly threatened to quit the party earlier in October. Ramesh Jarkiholi had also held talks with the BJP, hoping he could negotiate a better deal with the Congress.
"When his brother (Satish) had rebelled openly, Ramesh Jarkiholi wanted to make his presence felt. He threatened to join the BJP and tried to get a good deal by making demands. The party's high command did not want to set a bad precedent by giving in. He was sidelined for a reason," a Congress leader said.
Meanwhile, Congress veteran and former Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy was also sidelined and not given a ministerial berth. Reddy has openly accused Siddaramaiah, Dr G Parameshwara and Law Minister Krishna Byre Gowda of colluding with each other to keep him out of the Cabinet.
Responding to his allegations, Dr G Parameshwara said that he had no role in Ramalinga Reddy's name being rejected. "Of course every leader gets to suggest names. But the high command will take the ultimate decision. Krishna Byre Gowda and I were not involved in Ramalinga Reddy's name being kept out of the Cabinet. After many rounds of discussions the names were selected. Dissent is common after the cabinet expansion and it will be quelled," Deputy Chief Minister Parameshwara said on Monday.
Insiders in the Congress party, however, say that it was Siddaramaiah's decision to not include Ramalinga Reddy. "Siddaramaiah wanted to solidify the Congress' presence in North Karnataka. Hence, seven out of eight leaders inducted into the cabinet are from northern districts. Ramalinga Reddy is a veteran leader and has influence is in Bengaluru. It did not make sense to induct a leader from the city when the BJP was accusing us of not giving importance to the development of North Karnataka," a Congress source said.
Ramesh Jarkiholi threatens to quit again
Ramesh Jarkiholi, in a conversation with a Kannada TV channel from Belagavi, said that he is "thinking of quitting" the Congress along with a few other disgruntled leaders.
"I will quit any time now. I won't disclose the names and the number of leaders who are with me. I want to work for the betterment of the people of Belagavi," Ramesh Jarkiholi said during the conversation.
However, sources in the Congress say that Ramesh Jarkiholi has been displeased with the recent goings-on in Belagavi's political circles. Ramesh is allegedly disgruntled with the interference of other Congress leaders in his home turf and is trying to wrestle back the power he once held in the region.
"Ramesh Jarkiholi will be assigned the task of working to bring Congress to power in Belagavi's Lok Sabha constituencies. Siddaramaiah already has a plan to pacify him. These words are just threats to show that he is powerful. Everything will be fine in the party in the next couple of weeks," a Congress source said.