Siddaramaiah starts his innings on a mixed note (Karnataka Newsletter)

Bangalore, June 1 (IANS) Karnataka’s new Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has started his innings on a mixed note – forming a ministry with a fairly clean image but making announcements upsetting not just the opposition but also a section of his own party.

The controversial announcements came a day after he took over May 13 and ahead of forming the ministry. He had taken oath alone after the party won 121 seats in the 225-member assembly in the May 5 election. The tally rose to 122 as it won one more seat later.

One such decision was the desire to introduce cheap liquor as production and sale of arrack has been banned in the state.

The others include bringing a famous temple dedicated to Krishna in coastal Karnataka under the government’s Muzrai (religious affairs) department. Several Congress leaders from the region are against this.

Though Siddaramaiah claimed there was no proposal to introduce cheap liquor and that he was only vocing an opinion, the opposition, mainly the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), denounced the chief minister and the Congress.

JD-S leader and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has been taunting Siddaramaiah almost daily that he has taken some Rs.40 crore from the liquor lobby and so wants to please it.

“Concentrate on more urgent needs of the people,” has been Kumaraswamy’s refrain.

Siddaramaiah has challenged Kumaraswamy to prove his allegation, which has brought the usual response: “Will be done at the appropriate time.”

Kumaraswamy would be the leader of opposition in the assembly though the JD-S and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 40 seats each. This is because the JD-S polled more votes than the BJP.

This combination of Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy forebodes bitter wrangling not only in the house but also outside as relations between the two are frosty.

Siddaramaiah was in the JD-S till 2006 when he quit to protest its president H.D. Deve Gowda, a former prime pinister, promoting his family members in the party – Kumaraswamy and his elder brother H.D. Revanna.

In the last six years, Siddaramaiah and the Gowda family, particularly Deve Gowda and Kumraswamy, have been engaged in bitter exchanges.

Kumaraswamy, however, is trying to be generous to Siddaramaiah.

“The honeymoon period for the government is usually 100 days. We will give six months time to this government,” the JD-S leader said.

The BJP, ousted from power, is yet to recover from the shock though it has announced it will fight back aggressively if some of the programmes it had started are discontinued.

While Siddaramaiah has the numbers on his side and is also a dogged fighter, he has the onerous task of Congress chief ministers – carrying the party along.

As of now, it appears that both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and vice president Rahul Gandhi are backing Siddaramaiah’s efforts to keep those tainted by mining away from the ministry to start on a fairly clean slate.

The chief minister has, in his first two weeks, shown he is keen to provide a clean government and put the administrative machinery, which he says was down in the dumps during five years of BJP rule, back on track.

But he has been caught napping, literally – once at the fourth anniversary celebration of UPA-II in New Delhi recently and on the first day of the new assembly session May 29.

Many legislators had to wake up the snoozing Siddaramaiah to shake his hands. He promptly went back to napping after meeting the legislators.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at [email protected])

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