Unity among the ranks is easier while fighting as an oppositional force than while sharing power after winning. The Congress in Karnataka is still struggling to resolve its numerous inner power tussles after having reconciled the claims of its key leaders, Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar with their appointments as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, respectively. Including them, a 10-member Council of Ministers was sworn in on May 20, representing all communities and broadly all the regions of Karnataka. M.B. Patil, who belongs to the Lingayat community that shifted from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Congress in considerable numbers, and Priyank Kharge, a Dalit leader and the son of Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, were sworn in along with two more Dalit leaders — K.H. Muniyappa and G. Parameshwara. The Council has a Scheduled Tribe member, a Muslim and a Christian, thus presenting a picture of the all-community social coalition that propelled the Congress to victory. But this is only the beginning of an arduous journey as the Congress’s actions and words are going to be scrutinised by the public and the Opposition BJP that can be expected to be unforgiving. The focus must now be on governance, and not on placating every faction that is seeking ministry representation on the ground of community identity or political loyalty.
The challenges are twofold — to maintain decorum and unity of purpose, and to strive hard to deliver on the electoral promises and ensure good governance. One is not possible without the other, and on both counts, the new government can influence outcomes beyond the State. The dynamics evident so far indicate that Mr. Shivakumar has emerged as a power centre that will call for accommodation by Mr. Siddaramaiah. The Council has at least two members who too were aspirants for the top post. There are more berths to be filled, and the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister are now locked in a fresh battle over those. Mr. Shivakumar also appears to be emphasising his Vokkaliga caste identity in the ongoing bargains, which may cut both ways for him and the party. A surge in communal strife in recent years has distracted Karnataka from rising further as an economic powerhouse of the country. The new government has to treat mischief makers with an iron fist regardless of which community or religion they belong to. That is an early message that needs to be sent, loud and clear. The new government has announced the in-principle approval of the five guarantees that the Congress had promised, but there is considerable work to be done to implement them in a fiscally sustainable manner. If unity was required for winning, it is even more essential for governing.