2 top leaders nursing chief ministerial ambitions puts Congress in spot of bother in Karnataka

  • | Sunday | 31st July, 2022

Bengaluru, Jul 31 (PTI) The Congress in Karnataka seems to be in a conundrum, as many within the party fear about it imploding ahead of the 2023 Assembly polls, amid a game of one-upmanship between its two top leaders in the race to occupy the Chief Minister"s chair in the event of the party capturing power.There is palpable worry within the party about a virtual division getting created between the camps of state President D K Shivakumar and Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah, also a former chief minister.Senior leaders and Congressmen who understand the consequences of this groupism, have sounded a cautious note, saying, "first, winning the election is more important, then comes the CM post. Let"s cross the bridge first." Though both Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar overtly express the same opinion or feeling, their loyalists and camps are hellbent to project their respective leader, making things messy.Siddaramaiah"s supporters have planned grand celebrations on his 75th birthday on August 3 at Davangere in an apparent show of strength, as it comes ahead of the party sounding the poll bugle.The event is being seen as an attempt by Siddaramaiah"s camp to project him and his contributions, with an aim to send out a message to both the high command and his detractors within the party, ahead of polls, while consolidating the Kuruba leader"s "AHINDA" vote base.AHINDA is a Kannada acronym that stands for "Alpasankhyataru" (minorities), "Hindulidavaru" (Backward Classes) and "Dalitaru" (Dalits).The state Congress seemed confused in its response to the event that is likely to be attended by its national leader Rahul Gandhi, as it first tried to see it as a private event organised by Siddaramaiah"s supporters, then amid fears that the event may turn into a show of strength, a word was spread it will be held on the party forum.Finally it was packaged as an event organised by Congress leaders and workers, but not on the party forum, as Siddarmaiah and his camp succeeded in going ahead with the event, despite resistance from within especially by Shivakumar camp and some Congress old guards, by warning against promotion of "personality cult".Not taking things lightly, Shivakumar sought to turn the tide in his favour; he has played the community card by calling on the dominant Vokkaliga community, to which he belongs, to support his chief ministerial bid.Referring to him being the only Vokkaliga KPCC president after S M Krishna (who later went on to become CM), Shivakumar, while citing the example of how Dalits would want one of their own to become the CM, recently said, "every community has self-respect. Let our community come together." Some party men believe it is in fact the "Mekedatu padayatra", demanding for the implementation of balancing reservoir-cum-drinking water project across Cauvery river, organised by Shivakumar earlier this year, led to Siddaramaiah camp proposing the birthday bash, as the move was seen as an attempt by the KPCC president to consolidate his position and to mobilise cadres in old Mysuru region, dominated by Vokkaligas.Adding to the fire is Siddaramaiah"s loyalists like B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan among others openly backing their leader as the the party"s CM face in defiance of party diktats. This has angered Shivakumar and some oldguards of the party.A few political observers and party insiders are of the opinion that there are more voices in favour of Siddarmaiah compared to Shivakumar, among the legislators, and this has rattled the KPCC chief, who firmly believes "this is his time, as the party president is a natural contender for CM post".With Siddaramaiah repeatedly claiming that this will be his last election, his camp also strongly feels he should be given one last opportunity to the coveted post, as Shivakumar has age on his side; while the latter"s supporters are of the view that their leader should be given a chance now, as the former has already occupied the CM post between 2013-18.Signalling he will not let go easily, Shivakumar himself had recently said "Even in 2013 when Congress came to power, he (Siddaramaiah as CM) did not take me as a minister initially. I had worked for his victory, but I kept quiet...we all had fought elections under his leadership, I had then worked as campaign committee chief." Shivakumar said that despite Siddaramaiah losing in one (Chamundeshwari) of the two seats he had contested in the 2018 elections, he along with the then KPCC chief G Parameshwara, had ensured he got elected as the legislature party leader.Having switched to Congress from JD(S), Siddaramaiah was popular as CM because of his populist "Bhagya" schemes and has a pan Karnataka image, but failed to bring the party back to power in 2018, despite all populism.A Congress leader, not wanting to be named, said Siddaramaiah is the only CM in the state to complete a full term in 40 years, is a hit among masses. But looking at current developments it is true that there is a general question in the minds of a section of the party: "will he be responsible for the party"s collapse in the state." "He (Siddaramaiah) doesn"t have a sense of closure as he could not come back to power after a successful term. Looks like this is the reason why he wants to be CM for one last time at any cost, if the party wins," the leader said in response to a question.Shivakumar on his part is a "complete organisation man", known as "Congress trouble shooter", and is looked up to by his supporters and admirers for his aggressive style."Having worked for building the party and for standing up whenever needed, Shivakumar feels he has sacrificed a lot for the party and that his loyalty should be recognised now, but corruption and money laundering allegations, ED and IT cases are his major drawbacks. Also he does not enjoy as much pan Karnataka image and clout among MLAs compared to Siddaramiah," a senior leader said.Though there are varied opinions regarding announcing the Chief Ministerial face ahead of polls, the party at least as of now has maintained that the elections will be fought under collective leadership.Amid all this, the longstanding demand in the Congress for a Dalit CM may come to the fore ahead of the poll, with senior leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge and G Parameshwara being seen as serious contenders.Also, there is dominant Lingayat community from which seniors like M B Patil among others may become contenders, if the party plans to revive its support base from the community which has by and large sided with the BJP, after Veerendra Patil was "unceremoniously" sacked as CM by the Congress in 1990.Factionalism is not new for the Congress, and it needs to be seen how the grand old party, that has set a target of winning 150 seats, deals with it and attempts to come back to power in Karnataka, the only citadel of the ruling BJP in the south of India. PTI KSU RS SA ROH ROH

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