Cold war in Karnataka Congress over next CM’s choice

It is a case of counting the chicken before eggs are hatched in the state Congress.

Bengaluru: A cold war is on within the Congress Party in Karnataka over the probable choice for the chief ministership if the party comes to power two years from now. Though it is in the nature of ‘counting the chicken before the eggs are hatched’, the two top leaders, former CM Siddramaiah and KPCC chief D. K. Shivakumar (DKS) have left no one in doubt that they are in the fray for the top post if the party was voted into power in April 2023. At least two party colleagues of Siddramaiah have aired their opinion in the open.

Though both leaders have denied that they were laying claim to the top post in the event of the party’s win, it is believed that the campaign is being orchestrated from behind the scene.

DKS is the strongman of the party in the State and has a firm grip over the organization while Siddramaiah is considered the tallest leader, the only one to have completed the five-year tenure in the CM’s office during the last forty years. He is also considered close to Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. He is currently MLA from Kanakapura constituency in the outskirts of Bengaluru. His brother D. K. Suresh is member of the Lok Sabha representing Bengaluru Rural constituency. Both brothers own large businesses in quarrying, resorts and hotels. DKS spent 50 days in Tihar jail on recommendation of Enforcement Directorate in September-October 2019 following raids on his properties and businesses. With their bases close to the State capital, the party looks up to them for crowd mobilization for political rallies in southern parts of the State. DKS has been a minister for over 11 years under several chief ministers. He had stunned the party bigwigs by winning Assembly election from Sathanur constituency at the age of 27. DKS is a Vokkaliga by caste and has a strong following in the community which dominates the rural scene in the 12 districts of the Old Mysore State.

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Siddramaiah is currently leader of the 78-member strong Congress-led Opposition in the Assembly. He has been an entrant into the Congress from the Janata Dal and is extremely popular for his socialist policies which won him wide acclaim for mass welfare schemes such as Indira Canteens where one could have a breakfast at Rs. 10 and meals at Rs. 15. A lawyer by training, he entered the Assembly from a city constituency in Mysore on a Lok Dal ticket in 1983. However as an elected legislator, his fortune has been mixed. He contested from two constituencies in the 2018 Assembly election, but won from Badami in North Karnataka while losing from a city constituency in Mysore. He is currently the eighth time MLA in the Assembly. A Lohiaite and Socialist by disposition, Siddramaiah comes from the Kuruba (shepherd) community. Siddramaiah’s son Yathindra is MLA from the family’s home constituency Varuna, in the outskirts of Mysore city.

Both leaders are upping the ante much ahead of elections as there is a perception that the BJP is losing popular favour in the wake of open dissidence within the party and Chief Minister Yediyurappa being in no mood to voluntarily relinquish the office. Moreover, several chiefs of religious mutts affiliated to the Lingayaths have declared in no uncertain terms that any attempt to replace Yeddiyurappa would not be taken lying down.

The current warfare, cold though, also owes itself to KPCC’s move to overhaul the party organization at the district and taluka level. Siddramaiah camp fears that DKS being the head of the party, may downgrade grassroots leaders if they were found to be his (Siddramaiah’s) loyalists. However, Party’s vice president Saleem Ahmed has tried to dispel such fears saying that the KPCC’s initiative was aimed at revamping the party organization by casting away deadwood and bringing more efficient activists at the head of the district party apparatus.

What is however clear is that the choice of a person to hold the top post in the State in the event of the party’s win will not be an easy process. There is also pressure being built up to project a politician from the Dalit community as the CM face. In such a case, Mallikarjuna Kharge would be a prospective candidate. He has won the Assembly elections for eight times and was elected to the Lok Sabha once.

M A Siraj is Bengaluru based seasoned journalist who writes for a variety of newspapers including The Hindu, and news portals.

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