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Karnataka Govt threatened by Dissensions

The poor performance by the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka, a state it had wrested from the BJP during Assembly elections, has triggered a fresh round of confrontation between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy DK Shiva Kumar. The Saffron Brigade which is watching the developments from the sidelines eagerly, is waiting […]

The poor performance by the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka, a state it had wrested from the BJP during Assembly elections, has triggered a fresh round of confrontation between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy DK Shiva Kumar. The Saffron Brigade which is watching the developments from the sidelines eagerly, is waiting for the matters to precipitate. On the other hand, the Congress High Command, which needs to be more pro-active to quell the brewing revolt, has to act swiftly and satisfy both sides. Supporters of DK Shiva Kumar were hoping that there would be change of leadership in the government following the Parliamentary polls.

However, the Lok Sabha outcome has proved to be a huge embarrassment for the deputy CM, whose own brother, despite spending a whipping amount, lost from the Bangalore Rural seat. Shiva Kumar is understood to have fielded a sizable number of nominees from his own Vokkaliga community hoping that it would support the Congress. If this did not happen, it was because the Vokkaligas struck with Janata Dal (Secular) and HD Kumaraswamy, now the Union minister for Heavy Industries. While the expectation in the Congress was that the party would win nearly 20 out of 28 seats, its overall tally was far below that. In 2019, the Congress had won only a single seat and that was of DK Suresh, Shiva Kumar’s brother, who lost this time. Sensing that this was his chance to settle the leadership issue once and for all, Siddaramaiah has moved very swiftly. He has sounded the party leadership that Shiva Kumar should not be allowed to hold both, the position of the PCC Chief as well as that of the deputy Chief Minister.

In fact, Siddaramaiah has mooted a formula that could cut Shiva Kumar to size but the action could have wide ranging repercussions for the government and the party. Although, many of Shiva Kumar’s detractors claim that the number of MLAs who support him has come down to under 15, the Congress has to be extremely careful in dealing with him. Unconfirmed reports have stated that several key BJP functionaries have been in touch with him and have offered him plum positions besides ensuring that cases against him could be dropped, in the event of his crossing over to the Saffron brigade, and helping it to form the government. Shiva Kumar has vehemently denied these reports which he said were the handiwork of his rival faction. His followers are of the view that Siddaramaiah was only keen on promoting all those who had come to the Congress with him from the Janata Dal (Secular) following his fallout with Kumaraswamy over the leadership tussle.

To support this view, the example of Zameer Ahmed Khan, a minister and a close associate of the CM is cited, as he has been playing a key role in the affairs of the government. This partiality was at the expense of loyal Congressmen who had stood by the party through thick and thin, it is pointed out. The Chief Minister has conveyed to the High Command that besides Shiva Kumar, there should be two other deputy CMs including one Dalit and one Muslim. In addition, the party should have a new PCC Chief. In this connection, the names of any top Lingayat leader could be considered. It would be significant to mention that the Lingayats had supported the BJP wholeheartedly this time.

Former CM, Jagadish Shettar who had joined the Congress during the Assembly polls but returned to the Saffron Brigade despite being made an MLC, is understood to have played a key role in the BJP’s good performance in the State.

The Congress Karnataka leaders, right from the beginning, had been more interested in diminishing the importance of Shettar, instead of utilizing his great organizational abilities, in order to make deep inroads into the Lingayat community. It was obvious that both Shiva Kumar and Siddaramaiah felt threatened with his presence, and were happy when he returned back to the BJP. This was before the damage in the Lok Sabha elections was done by the collective Saffron Brigade. While Shettar is still to be given due recognition by the party he helped to establish in the state along with the late Ananth Kumar and BS Yeddyurappa, there is speculation that he could be in consideration for a Cabinet berth at the Centre. The Karnataka government is in dire need of central assistance so far as financial aspects are concerned and there have been reports of rampant corruption that has been going on. While the Congress denies that there has been any kind of wrong doing, the charges and counter charges that keep on re-surfacing within the organization, have a different story to tell.

The High Command is in a dilemma because any shift in status quo would destabilize the existing equations. There is also pressure in some quarters to reinstate senior leader Roshan Baig, who had been suspended from the party for his activities, and has since then been seeking his re-entry in active politics. Baig is viewed as someone who could counter the Siddaramaiah camp’s influence in the community.

The Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge belongs to the State, and is well conversant with the players and the situation. However, he has his limitations because Karnataka is amongst the few states where the party is in power. Siddaramaiah knows that it was his chance to re-assert his authority, since he is without doubt the only mass leader in the State. The Congress cannot afford to lose him and also knows the importance of Shiva Kumar. The challenge is to balance the equations and save the government at any cost.

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