M. A. Siraj
Bengaluru: The Congress is showing new verve and enthusiasm in Karnataka with the installation of Mr. D. K. Shivakumar (better known as DKS) as the President of the KPCC on July 2, a day the party designated it as ‘Prathijna Dina’ (Day of oath-taking). Known variously as a ‘go-getter’ and ‘party’s trouble-shooter’, the ceremony came off after several postponements due to prohibitions against public gatherings amid COVID-19 lockdown. Though the main ceremony was attended by only 150 senior and prominent leaders at the KPCC office in Bengaluru, the party claims that the ceremony was watched by nearly five million people across the State.
Seven-time MLA and a former minister, DKS’s installation was digitally coordinated with party workers watching it at around 16,000 locations. It was also livestreamed on platforms like Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and several regional channels. The large scale induction of sophisticated technology signals the new makeover of the party in that DKS is out to achieve some modicum of parity with its chief rival, the ruling BJP in the state. The party office on Queen’s Road had installed giant LED screens ever since Party President, Sonia Gandhi had named him the new KPCC president six months ago after his release from the Tihar Jail.
One who has never concealed his ambition to become the chief minister of Karnataka, DKS has been party’s main trouble-shooter for a long time. A loyal confidant of the Party’s central leadership, he is seen as a no-holds-barred achiever. His mettle as the crisis manager has been tested several times. It was he who hosted 24 Gujarat MLAs in a resort outside Bengaluru two years ago to protect them from being lured by the BJP which was out to see that Ahmed Patel does not get elected to the Rajya Sabha. It was he who started the ‘resort politics’ in 2001, when he saved Vilasrao Deshmukh Government in Maharashtra from collapsing by ferrying his loyalist MLAs to Bengaluru and hosting them for several days. His services have thus been called during all such crises since then. He was largely behind the effort to stitch an alliance between the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular in May 2018, when Mr. Yeddiyurappa’s two-day Government had to resign before facing the Assembly.
The early moves suggest that DKS would direct most of his might on making a cadre-based party in the State. In his speech on ‘Prathijna Dina’, he vowed to bring about grassroots changes in the organization. He is reaching out to leaders sulking on the margins. It was after long many years that people saw overtures being made to Mr. Janardhan Poojary (one known for being elected from Mangalore for Lok Sabha four times in a row). Though he went to Mangalore to meet the senior leader, his chopper could not land due to inclement weather. A committee has been constituted by him under the leadership of Allum Veerabhadrappa, a former KPCC chief, to identify party leaders who have been disgruntled or have moved away to rival parties during the last few years. He has also set a target of forming 44,000 booth committees to organize Congress supporters as active canvassers. A Covid committee too has been formed to file RTIs to dig out corruption in disbursement of funds by the State Government. There have been charges leveled against functionaries of the BJP of embezzling funds meant for Covid-related equipment and services.
Even while seeking the return of those who have strayed away from the party and placating the senior leaders, DKS is acutely aware of pushing the youth to the fore. Besides him, the KPCC has now three working presidents i.e., Priyank Kharge, MLA and son of Mallikarjuna Kharge; Saleem Ahmed, twice MLC and longtime loyalist; and, Satish Jharkiholi, MLA and a sugar baron from Belgaum district whose two brothers are also MLAs but in the BJP.
On his trajectory, DKS will have to contend with several ambitious leaders. Chief among them is the former CM Siddramaiah who is still harbouring ambition for a second term in the CM’s office. He is currently Opposition leader in the Karnataka Assembly. He is all likely to offer a prominent place to Lakshmi Hebbalkar, MLA, a young face and an arch opponent of Jharkiholi brothers in Belgaum (now Belgavi) district.
The Assembly elections in Karnataka are three years away and he will have the major challenge of sustaining the tempo and enthusiasm of the party workers till then.
M.A. Siraj is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru