BENGALURU: “I was surprised to see that you have cut down the quantity of free rice distributed under Anna Bhagya scheme to 5 kilos,” reads a letter written by Siddaramaiah to Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy. Almost a week after the changes to his pet project Anna Bhagya scheme and hike in prices of fuel was announced in the budget, Siddaramaiah has woken up seeking a rollback on both decisions. The sudden realisation that has dawned upon the former Chief Minister a day before H D Kumaraswamy is to respond to questions on his budget is now raising eyebrows.
The hike in fuel prices and the cut back on the quantity of rice under Anna Bhagya seems to have become the new flashpoint between coalition partners JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka. Despite being the chief of the Coordination committee that has been set up specifically to ensure smooth functioning of the coalition government and discussion of core issues, Siddaramaiah took everyone by surprise by publicly expressing his discomfort with the fuel price hike and changes to Anna Bhagya scheme on Wednesday.
While sources close to Siddaramaiah suggest that both these issues were not brought to the notice of the coordination committee headed by Siddaramaiah, H D Kumaraswamy has raised questions on why reservations, if any, were not made clear in the meeting. “Neither did he (Kumaraswamy) apprise the committee of changes to Anna Bhagya nor the hike in fuel prices. JD(S) had assured to keep Anna Bhagya and many other flagship schemes as is,” said a source from Siddaramaiah’s camp. Siddaramaiah’s statements coupled with Congress MLAs’ anger over the budget add to the murmurs that Kumaraswamy did not discuss his plans on tax hike with the coalition partner.
The Congress came under severe bashing from within and outside the party following the announcement of the fuel price hike by H D Kumaraswamy. The Chief Minister’s move essentially threatened Congress’ carefully built image of “anti-fuel rise price agenda” at the Centre. While one could wonder if Siddaramaiah’s statements were an attempt to distance his party from the fuel price hike, analysts believe that the situation could be more complex. “He is positioning himself as an anti-government force while Parameshwara works with the government.
With this, the Congress wants to have it both ways,” observed political analyst Prof Narendar Pani, National Institute of Advanced Studies. Siddaramaiah’s sudden outburst may not mean that all is not well between the coalition partners but could send across a message that despite being allies, the parties had different stands, analysts believe- stands that suits each one’s narrative. Prof Pani added that the delay in expressing his position on the issues could have stemmed from Siddaramaiah’s need to get approval from the high command after the drama witnessed during his visit to Dharmasthala.
“The Congress is protesting against fuel price rise at the national level. Our party fought against the BJP in polls with oil prices as a primary agenda. You have announced a price hike at a time like this. Apart from making fuel costly, this will also bear an impact on the common man. I appeal to you to reconsider your decision on fuel price hike,” Siddaramaiah concludes in his two-page letter.