Fighting battles, winning wars: Rajasthan syndrome haunts Karnataka Cong

High Command is caught between a rock and hard place

Aditi Phadnis
Former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah (right)  and Karnataka Congress President D K Shivakumar	photo: pti

Former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah (right) and Karnataka Congress President D K Shivakumar photo: pti

“We have won the battle, but the war remains,” said Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge after the votes of the last Assembly seat in the Karnataka Assembly elections were counted and it became clear that the Congress had got an unambiguous mandate, winning 135 seats of 224.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Ahead of the Congress Legislature Party meeting, Kharge announced that three observers — veteran Maharashtra leader Sushilkumar Shinde and party leaders Jitendra Singh and Deepak Babaria — would assess the mood of the House and hand over their report to the party High Command, after which the High Command would declare the name of the chief minister (CM). 

Within hours, a message was conveyed to him. He was the High Command, and he had the authority to decide who the new CM would be. 

The process of ‘selecting’ a CM was likely to take a few days, said top Congress sources. A tentative date for the swearing-in is May 18.

That is possibly the ‘war’ Kharge was referring to.

Neither D K Shivakumar, considered an architect of the Congress victory, nor Siddaramaiah, the party’s former leader, who is determined to become CM for a second time (thus breaking a political tradition in the state where no CM has managed to complete a full two terms), is ready to yield. Added to the mix are claims of Parameshwara, a leading Dalit leader in the state.

As slogans began to be raised in favour of Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, information filtering out of the meeting indicated that with 68 Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), Shivakumar was leading the race, while Siddaramaiah was backed by 59 legislators. Parameshwara had the support of eight MLAs.

The High Command now has the task of preventing a Rajasthan-like situation from erupting in the state. Congress MLA from Bengaluru’s BTM Layout, Ramalinga Reddy, said that there are leaders other than Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah who want to be the next CM of Karnataka.

He said: “Leaders like Parameshwara and M B Patil are also CM aspirants in Karnataka. But only the High Command will decide who is going to be CM.” 

The claims of all three leaders are not unjustified, said Karnataka Congress sources. It was the unflagging efforts of Shivakumar that contributed to the Congress’ performance. But Shivakumar has multiple cases pending before the Enforcement Directorate, and Congress leaders said this could lead to embarrassment for the party if the CM of the state is led away to prison.

Shivakumar reminded the party of his contribution when he told reporters in Tumakuru, where he had gone to meet his guru: “I have sacrificed for the party and stood with Siddaramaiah.”

Veteran observers of Karnataka politics say the Congress has a problem of plenty. Nearly 40 per cent of MLAs elected have served between three and six terms in the Assembly. In other words, they are ‘senior’ leaders of the party. At least two dozen of them have been ministers in the past.

This is not the only problem.

Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, has the unreserved support of his community, which has backed him to the hilt. The evidence is the extent of support the Congress got even in Janata Dal (Secular) bastions in South Karnataka like Hassan and Mandya. The community, which is aggressive and assertive, expects its leader to be rewarded.

It is possible that Vokkaligas might accept a Dalit or a leader of some other community as CM, if the legal problems Shivakumar faces are explained to them.

But they will find it hard to accept Siddaramaiah as their leader because Siddaramaiah has never shied away from attacking the Vokkaligas for their feudal attitude towards other castes.

A crucial meeting of various Vokkaliga seers, including Adichunchanagiri seer Nirmalananda Swami (religious head of the Vokkaliga community) and members of the Vokkaliga Sangha, took place on Sunday afternoon. It adopted a resolution asking the Congress to make Shivakumar the CM. Among the newly elected Congress MLAs, 29 are Vokkaligas.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, is still struggling to absorb the impact of the defeat. The party will have to elect a leader of the legislature party who will also be the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly. Dejected party leaders said they will hold a meeting in the coming two or three days, as MLAs have yet to return from their constituencies.

As the Congress struggles with internal leadership issues, others are reminding the party of its poll promises. The first to do so was the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief and Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi, who said the Congress must remember its manifesto promise of taking action against all organisations that spread hate and restore reservations for Muslims.

“Before every Lok Sabha election, Congress won the Assembly election in Karnataka. I think you can see it as a trend. Congress won Assembly elections in 2014 and (Narendra) Modi won in Parliament”

HIMANTA BISWA SARMA, Assam Chief Minister & BJP leader

“The markets of hate have been shut down and the shops of love have opened”
RAHUL GANDHI, Congress leader

“BJP taunted us saying the doors of the Congress party were closed and it would make a Congress-mukt Bharat. But, the truth today is a BJP-mukt Dakshin Bharat”
MALLIKARJUN KHARGE, Congress President

“The PM injected divisiveness and attempted polarisation. The vote in Karnataka is for an engine in Bengaluru that will combine economic growth with social harmony”
JAIRAM RAMESH, Congress General Secretary

“Brute authoritarian and majoritarian politics vanquished! When people want plurality and democratic forces to win, no central design to dominate can repress their spontaneity: that is the moral of the story, the lesson for tomorrow”
MAMATA BANERJEE, West Bengal Chief Minister

“The BJP tried its best to communalise the situation (as is its habit). It even brought Bajrangbali, religion, and Hindu-Muslim to the discourse. But people chose the issue of development (on which the Congress ran its campaign)”
MEHBOOBA MUFTI, People’s Democratic Party chief

“Now, there is no way the BJP will have the courage to allow Assembly elections to take place in Jammu & Kashmir any time soon #KarnatakaElectionResults”
OMAR ABDULLAH, Vice-President, National Conference

“I assured Sonia Gandhi that I would deliver Karnataka. It’s a collective success”
D K SHIVAKUMAR,Congress leader

“This election was more than an election to a state Assembly. It was about upholding the fundamental values of the Indian Constitution and stopping the damage done by supremacist theories, discrimination, and prejudice”
P CHIDAMBARAM, Senior party leader

“If one thought Karnataka had 40% sarkar, Maharashtra has been forcefully pushed under a more corrupt builder-contractor regime that is unconstitutional, immoral, and corrupt. Just like Karnataka, the people of Maharashtra will show this regime of gaddars (traitors) their place, in the very first chance we get to vote for elections!”

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First Published: May 14 2023 | 10:46 PM IST

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