Karnataka government formation | Siddaramaiah is likely choice of Congress high command

Karnataka will have a new government in 48 to 72 hours, promises central Congress leadership; offering Deputy CM, rotation arrangement options, but source says Shivakumar wants “CM post or nothing at all”

May 17, 2023 10:11 pm | Updated 11:03 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi meets former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in New Delhi on May 17, 2023.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi meets former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in New Delhi on May 17, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

The decision on Karnataka’s next Chief Minister and the new State cabinet will be taken in the next 48 to 72 hours, the Congress announced on May 17, as former party chief Rahul Gandhi held separate meetings with the rival claimants for the top post — Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief D.K. Shivakumar and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah — for the first time after the party’s big victory.

Karnataka government formation | Updates

Mr. Siddaramaiah, who enjoys the support of the majority of the newly elected legislators, is said to be the high command’s choice and this message is said to have been conveyed to both contenders. But any formal announcement can take place only when Mr. Shivakumar comes on board and gives up his demand for the top job.

Warning against ‘indiscipline’

Blaming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for spreading “rumours and fake news” through a section of the media, the Congress general secretary for Karnataka, Randeep Surjewala, also warned party leaders not to issue any statement on the leadership issue. “Any out-of-turn remark made from here onward will be treated as indiscipline and action will be taken,” Mr. Surjewala said, in a statement posted on his Twitter handle.

In the past two days, both Mr. Siddaramaiah and Mr. Shivakumar have made public statements about why they are the right choice for the top job.

Sources told The Hindu that the high command is “working” on Mr. Shivakumar, who spent close to an hour with Mr. Gandhi at former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s 10, Janpath residence, and then spent nearly two hours at Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge’s official residence. Senior leaders, including Mr. Surjewala and the party’s general secretary for organisation, K.C. Venugopal, were also present.

‘No comment on options’

From rotating the chief ministership in a power sharing arrangement to offering Mr. Shivakumar the Deputy Chief Minister’s post along with his KPCC president’s post, various options were being discussed in the public domain. But there was no comment from Mr. Shivakumar on any of these options, or whether he considered them acceptable.

Apart from meeting Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Kharge, the Karnataka Congress chief also had a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Surjewala, who then conveyed his demands to Mr. Kharge at a late meeting.

“I am not making any comments. You people are making all the comments…. No decision, just a pranam (greeting),” the KPCC chief told reporters as he was going to meet Mr Surjewala in the evening.

‘CM or nothing’

While Mr. Shivakumar held back-to-back meetings with senior leaders — in a sign that he was the one the high command was trying to placate — Mr. Siddaramaiah went back to his hotel after meeting Mr. Gandhi in the morning. He did not have any other meetings.

A source close to the KPCC chief told The Hindu that Mr. Shivakumar wants “the Chief Minister’s post or nothing at all”. That is the scenario that the Congress’ central leadership wants to avoid; it want both the rival leaders as part of the government in order to strengthen the party’s prospects in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. While Mr. Shivakumar is credited with reviving the party and pulling in the influential Vokkaliga community, Mr. Siddaramaiah is crucial for the party’s grip over AHINDAs, which is an acronym for the rainbow coalition of religious minorities, Other Backward Classes and Dalits.

Decision within 3 days

With all kinds of speculation doing the rounds, Mr. Surjewala blamed the BJP. “Stop listening to rumours being planted by the BJP which is frustrated by the decisive defeat in Karnataka,” he told reporters outside Mr. Kharge’s house. ”It [the decision to name the CM] is a matter of today and tomorrow and we will have a leader of the legislature party. Within the next 48 to 72 hours, we will have a new cabinet in Karnataka and in the first cabinet meeting, we will implement the five Congress guarantees and begin the work of building brand Karnataka,” he added.

Targeting a section of the media that is questioning the delay in announcing the Chief Minister, Mr Surjewala tweeted, ”I hope same people had questioned PM Modi when he took 7 to 10 days in deciding Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Goa and many other States. No one then whispered a word on the High Command culture. But the same forces and a select news outlets have objections to the process of dialogue, discussion, consensus adopted by Sh. @kharge ji, which is in true democratic traditions”.

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