Differences between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar led to a drastic pruning of the list of ministers to eight for swearing in on Saturday, even as the Congress High Command was keen on inducting up to 25 ministers.
Both the leaders could not reconcile their sharp division over who should be inducted into the Cabinet and it led to the deliberations till early Saturday morning. Initially, both the leaders gave an impression that the ministry formation was going to be a smooth affair but it was not so, as Friday night progressed.
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Similar to the cut throat negotiations to choose who will become the Chief Minister, the duo stood their ground making it difficult for the central leadership to iron out a possible cabinet that caters to all regions, religions and castes.
Sources said Siddaramaiah’s main objection were to the suggestion to include B K Hariprasad, who leads Congress in Legislative Council, and Shanti Nagar MLA NA Haris while Shivakumar objected to the inclusion of Krishna Byre Gowda, Dinesh Gundu Rao, Zameer Ahmed Khan, H C Mahadevappa and M B Patil.
Only Khan and Patil managed to get into the pruned list while the cases of others were kept for another day as the time was running out. Shivakumar was very keen on including Haris but Siddaramaiah put his foot down.
Both the leaders also quibbled over the inclusion of JD(S) leaders who were loyal to Siddaramaiah and joined the Congress. Shivakumar insisted that the priority should be given to Congress loyalists and not those who came from other parties.
Siddaramaiah was also keen on RV Deshpande’s inclusion but he could not push it through in the first round of discussions, sources said.
Some MLAs were considered for the post of Speaker, including Deshpande, T B Jayachandra and H K Patil. All these leaders bluntly told the leadership that they prefer to sit as ordinary MLA than holding the post of Speaker, sources said.
Another point of contention was Shivakumar’s insistence on the inclusion of 9-11 Vokkaligas. Sources said Siddaramaiah was not in agreement, saying there is a need to accommodate MLAs from smaller communities too.
There were a series of meetings since Friday afternoon. Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar had met Congress General Secretary (Organisation) and Karnataka in-charge Randeep Surjewala on Friday night for a final meeting but it remained inconclusive with Siddaramaiah leaving the venue around midnight after submitting a list of his choices.
In between, sources said, there were regular calls from Kharge’s office to Venugopal asking about the progress of the talks. Kharge was not directly involved in the talks, as he asked the Karnataka leaders to thrash a formula themselves.
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After Siddaramaiah left around midnight, Shivakumar stayed back and there were further deliberations. Venugopal then called Siddaramaiah to his residence around 1.45 AM on Saturday and then all had another round of meeting during which the two leaders agreed to prune the list for the time being.
Sources said the leaders accepted the suggestion of Venugopal, which he got ratified by the Congress president. While Siddaramaiah left for Bengaluru at 3.30 AM, sources said Shivakumar left around 6.45 AM.
It was decided to hold a second round of meetings soon to decide on the remaining 24 berths in the Cabinet. Karnataka can have a maximum of 34 ministers, including the Chief Minister.