Cracks in Congress-JD(S) alliance: Disagreements over fresh budget, farm loan waiver create further tensions

As the Congress-JD(S) government completes one month in office, several unresolved issues are plaguing the ruling alliance in Karnataka. And the coalition partners have begun openly sparring ahead of the presentation of the state Budget, with issues like farm loan waiver and the second phase of a Cabinet expansion also rising to the fore.

The differences are not new, and had emerged even before the MLAs were sworn in. But now that over four weeks have passed, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has shifted his view from being at Congress' mercy to not being at "anyone's mercy" at all. With both parties still appearing confident of pulling through for the next five years, here's a detailed look at the issues that are currently keeping the tussle alive:

Divide over fresh budget

The coalition partners are struggling to make a decision on whether or not Kumaraswamy, who also holds the finance portfolio, should present a full budget on 5 July.

Chairman of the Congress-JDS coordination committee Siddaramaiah has expressed his strong reservations over presenting a new full-fledged budget, saying there was no need for such an exercise since he had already tabled the budget as chief minister a few months ago. Kumaraswamy has, however, strongly pushed for a new budget and taken up the issue with Congress president Rahul Gandhi during his meeting with him in New Delhi, and later said he had got his approval as well.

Kumaraswamy said, "They (new MLAs) don't know (about the old budget). If I continue with the vote on account that was approved by the then MLAs, who have now lost, we will have to see whether it will lead to breach of privilege of new MLAs."

 Cracks in Congress-JD(S) alliance: Disagreements over fresh budget, farm loan waiver create further tensions

Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and Chairman of the Congress-JDS coordination committee Siddaramaiah

"If someone brings in a privilege motion, what should I do? There are issues," he said.

On Sunday, a video clip purportedly showing Siddaramaiah, who held the finance portfolio in the previous government, expressing his displeasure over presentation of fresh budget to few Congress MLAs had surfaced.

Kumaraswamy, without taking any names, said, "Some have suggested that let the budget be presented after the parliament election, so there are issues."

A few days ago, Siddaramaiah had asserted that he had already tabled the budget as chief minister a few months ago. "The budget has already been tabled. It was a full-fledged budget. That's why we had taken vote on accounts for four months. It will be there till July end. All the ongoing programmes and new programmes announced in the budget will continue," he said. Kumaraswamy had responded to this by saying, "Whenever a new government comes to power, it needs to demonstrate what its goals are."

Congress ministers G Parameshwara and DK Shivakumar have backed Kumaraswamy's stand, saying that it is conventional to present a fresh budget whenever a new government comes to power. The state Cabinet will hold a 10-day session of the legislature from 2 July.

Farm loan waiver

Kumaraswamy — who is under intense pressure to announce farm loan waiver that the JD(S) had promised in the run up to the Karnataka Assembly elections — is expected to make an announcement on the scheme in the budget.

In his party’s election manifesto, Kumaraswamy had promised to waive farm loans "within 24 hours of coming to power". However, days after the coalition government was formed, he said that he was "at the mercy of Congress" while taking decisions on schemes like farm loan waiver since his was not an "independent government".

Siddaramaiah had later said the government will arrive at a decision to implement a two-phased scheme for farm loan waiver "within 15 days", a period which came to an end on 15 June. Kumaraswamy then reiterated that he is committed to waiving the farm loan and would announce it shortly.

Addressing a meeting of representatives of cooperative banks on Monday, Kumaraswamy had said he was not at anyone's mercy, even as he tried to reaffirm his commitment to protect the interest of farmers with farm loan waiver.

He said that he has sought 50 percent central assistance for waiving the farm loans, adding, "In Karnataka, about 85 lakh farmers have outstanding debts on account of agricultural loans from banks. Owing to the recurring drought, the farmers are even more severely distressed. I request the Government of India to provide 50 percent support to our loan-waiver scheme."

Kumaraswamy also sought to allay fears that the government would face financial crunch to take up other developmental works if it waives a farm loan of Rs 53,000 crore.

In the video that cropped up on Sunday, Siddaramaiah also mocked Kumaraswamy's farm loan proposal. At the meeting with representatives of cooperative banks, Kumaraswamy asserted that his decision on the farm loan waiver is out of good intention.

"Will I get commission from this? I don't get any commission from this loan waiver. I know to whom commissions go in governments.I know that there are troubles at each step for me... I will have to mobilise money. The previous finance minister has himself said where will I get the money from? There are issues," he said.

The Congress is wary of the implications of farm loan waiver and officials have informed Kumaraswamy about tough times ahead in implementing it.

Despite the Siddaramaiah government waiving farm loans of Rs 50,000 in 2017, the Congress failed to get a majority in the recent Assembly election. The Congress leaders are now considering that the JD(S) will take the credit if a new loan waiver is announced. "If we agree to Kumaraswamy's loan waiver, the JD(S) may get full credit. Because of that, our leaders are carefully assessing it," a senior Congress MLA was quoted as saying by News18.

Portfolio allocation

The first phase of expansion of the Karnataka cabinet left several legislators disgruntled on being denied ministerial berths.

After 25 ministers were sworn in in the first phase, MB Patil, HK Patil, Satish Jarkhiholi were among those from Congress who voiced their discontent on being excluded from the Cabinet. While the JD(S) kept 10 ministerial berths for itself, Congress had 12 of legislators inducted into the Cabinet. Amid the tension, Congress' DK Shivakumar entered into a cold war with HD Revanna (Kumaraswamy's brother) over promotion of several officials to the irrigation department.

In a bid to bring down the heat, the coalition coordination and monitoring committee has decided to expand the ministry "as soon as possible" and also appoint chairpersons or presidents at 30 boards and corporations of the government.

These 30 posts could be elevated to the Cabinet rank since Siddaramaiah too had used this route in 2016. As per the agreement between the alliance partners, the Congress will get two-thirds of the posts at boards and corporations while the rest will go to JD(S).

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 13:16:26 IST