The seven-time MLA and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president, D.K. Shivakumar, is among the richest politicians in the State. Hailing from a modest agrarian Vokkaliga family, his rise and dominance in Karnataka politics is the result of hard work and assiduous grassroots management, coupled with financial muscle. Over the years, he has earned his stripes as the Congress’s trouble-shooter in Karnataka.
The 60-year-old, who declared total family assets of ₹1,358 crore in his election affidavit this year, is leading the Congress from the front for the coming Karnataka Assembly election, even as he is under the investigation of multiple agencies such as Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax Department and Central Bureau of Investigation for his alleged money laundering and income tax evasion cases.
Mr. Shivakumar, who was arrested in connection with a money laundering case in 2019, had played a crucial role in keeping the party’s flock together after the 2018 Assembly election, resulting in the Congress going on to stitch a post-poll alliance. This had denied the BJP, the single largest party, a chance to form the government. The Congress linked his arrest to this episode and billed it “vendetta” politics. Later, he secured bail and walked out of Delhi’s Tihar Jail after spending 50 days. The MLA, who has his own support base in the Old Mysore region, was brought in an open car in a procession from the airport, in an attempt to cast his arrest as an “insult” to the Vokkaliga community.
In a setback, the High Court of Karnataka recently dismissed a petition filed in 2020 by Mr. Shivakumar questioning the legality of the consent given by the State government in September 2019 to the CBI to probe on the allegation that he possess ₹74.93 crore assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. However, there is a stay granted by the Court in February, 2023, for further investigation being conducted by the CBI by registering a criminal case for allegedly possessing DA. This petition is pending adjudication.
Mr. Shivakumar’s first foray into electoral politics was in the 1985 Assembly election against former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, a formidable leader of the undivided Janata Party in the erstwhile Sathanur constituency. Mr. Shivakumar lost that battle. In the 1989 Assembly election, the Congress returned to power and Mr. Shivakumar won as the party candidate from Sathanur. He became a Minister for Prisons at the age of 30 in the S. Bangarappa Cabinet in 1991-92. Since then, he has not lost an election.
In the 1999 elections, Mr. Shivakumar defeated former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy (JD-S) in Sathanur. This was the beginning of a long-standing political rivalry between the Deve Gowda family and Mr. Shivakumar. He came to be known as a “giant killer”. Mr. Shivakumar rose to political prominence in the S.M. Krishna-led Congress government (1999-2004) by holding the Urban Development and Cooperation portfolio. Many political commentators see this as the period of the meteoric rise in his fortunes, in both politics and business.
In simultaneous elections held to the Lok Sabha and the Karnataka Assembly in 2004, Mr. Shivakumar fought hard for the victory of TV journalist and Congress candidate Tejaswini Gowda (now BJP MLC), against Mr. Gowda in the Kanakapura Lok Sabha constituency. In the Assembly election, the Congress lost but Mr. Shivakumar managed to win the seat. In the Dharam Singh-led Congress-JD (S) government (2004-05), Mr. Gowda is learnt to have “settled scores” by keeping the S.M. Krishna-Shivakumar duo out of power.
The Congress returned to power in 2013 and Mr. Shivakumar was inducted into the Cabinet by Mr. Siddaramaiah, though little later following allegations of the “tainted image” against the former. In 2014, the BJP swept the Lok Sabha election but Mr. Shivakumar ensured the victory of his brother, D.K. Suresh. Now, Mr. Suresh is the lone Congress Lok Sabha member from Karnataka.
His proximity to the central leadership and ability for micro political management have made him the go-to man for situations such as safeguarding MLAs from Gujarat at a resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru in 2017 or ensuring the victory of Ahmed Patel in Rajya Sabha polls in the same year. The resort they were staying in was searched by IT officials. In June 2002, Mr. Shivakumar conducted a similar task when Maharashtra Congress Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh faced a no-trust motion. After the 2018 fractured mandate in the Karnataka Assembly, Mr. Shivakumar played a critical role in forming the coalition government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy, by leaving aside the long-standing political animosity with the Deve Gowda family. But his efforts to save the coalition government was futile when 14 MLAs of the party joined the BJP which led to the formation of the BJP government.
This time, in the game of one-upmanship with Mr. Siddaramaiah, Mr. Shivakumar has publicly announced his ambition of becoming the CM. The Vokkaliga strongman, who said he will remove his beard after becoming the CM, believes this election is his best chance for winning the top job, though he has repeatedly stated that it is ultimately the party high command that will take the call.