The suspense over who will be the next Chief Minister of Karnataka continued on May 15 even as the team of poll observers provided the feedback of the newly elected legislators to Congress resident Mallikarjun Kharge in Delhi.
Party general secretary in-charge for Karnataka Randeep Surjewala and general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal were present in the closed door meeting at Mr Kharge’s residence where the views of the MLAs were discussed.
Another meeting will take place on May 16 at the Congress chief’s place after Mr Kharge consults his party colleagues including his predecessors Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Karnataka state Congress president D K Shivakumar will reach Delhi on May 16 for discussion with the party leadership on the government formation in the Sstate, his brother and party MP D K Suresh said.
Later in the evening, Mr. Suresh, the Congress MP from Bengaluru Rural, met party chief Mallikarjun Kharge at the latter’s residence and thereafter told reporters that his brother will be visiting Delhi on May 16
“Yes, he will be coming tomorrow,” D K Suresh said in response to a question from reporters.
Emerging from the meeting at Mr Kharge’s place, Mr Surjewala told reporters that the observers consulted 138 MLAs that included a Congress associate member and two independent MLAs who have supported the party.
Though the feedback from MLAs was meant to be a confidential exercise, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told a private TV channel that a majority of the MLAs voted for him.
The statement did not go down well with the other chief ministerial contender and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president, D.K. Shivakumar, who asserted that he had ‘delivered Karnataka to the Congress single-handed’. He also showed his displeasure by skipping his Delhi visit, citing ill health because of a stomach infection.
However, the Karnataka Congress chief’s brother and Lok Sabha member, D K Suresh, had a late night meeting with Mr Kharge, said sources.
The top leadership of the party had called both Mr Siddaramaiah and Mr Shivakumar for further discussions and the former has already reached the national capital.
The KPPC chief, who celebrated his 62nd birthday on Monday, not only claimed credit for the party victory in Karnataka but also the support of 135 MLAs. “Yesterday (May 14) 135 MLAs gave their opinion and passed one-line resolution, a few MLAs have expressed their personal opinion. My power is 135 MLAs. Under my leadership, the party has won 135 seats,”he said.
“I have single-handedly taken the party to victory. I am satisfied with the results. I don’t want to disclose now what all happened during the last five years. When times come I will reveal. I did not lose heart when 14 MLAs of the party defected to the BJP that led to the fall of the JD-S-Congress coalition government,”Mr Shivakumar asserted.
He also added he had come good on his promise of delivering Karnataka to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Mr Kharge. “I am a single man. Mahatma Gandhi said one thing, be bold-hearted even when defeated,” he noted.
Mr Shivakumar’s assertion came hours after the former Chief Minister told India Today TV that majority of the MLAs had backed him at Sunday’s CLP meeting in Bengaluru. “Most of the MLAs wanted me to be the chief minister of Karnataka”, he said.
Asked about the one-line resolution, he said “it’s a general procedure always. I have all confidence in the party high command and I will go by the high command’s decision”.
KPCC campaign committee chairman and former minister M B Patil, who is loyal to Mr Siddaramaiah, however took a more cautious approach and said that the high command is yet to count the votes cast by newly elected MLAs on electing the CLP leader.
Mr Patil, a prominent Lingayat leader who too is looking to be rewarded with deputy Chief Minister’s post, said the high command would announce the chief ministerial candidate after party observers count votes of MLAs.
The KPCC ccampaign committee chief, along with other newly elected MLAs like Zameer Ahmed Khan, Byrathi Suresh, accompanied Mr Siddaramaiah to Delhi.
Away from the very public tussle for leadership in Karnataka, there is talk about a power-sharing arrangement between the two contenders in which Mr Siddaramaiah could be the first choice, while Mr Shivakumar could be considered for the top job after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
One argument that is being forwarded is that Mr Shivakumar could be “troubled” by central agencies to embarrass the Congress ahead of the next general elections as he has not only been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case but was even jailed.That is why Mr Siddaramaiah, who enjoys a ‘clean’ image, could be preferred.
However, supports of Mr Shivakumar argue that Congress historic win in Karnataka is not only because of the state chief’s organisational capabilities but also Vokkaligas, the caste he belongs to, overwhelmingly voting for the Congress even in the old Mysuru region that is considered to be a stronghold of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal-Secular.