Siddaramaiah | An AHINDA leader’s new innings

The 75-year-old Congress leader, who has kept faith in welfarism and secularism as the two constants throughout his political career, returns to power at a time when he faces greater challenges from within and outside the party

Updated - May 21, 2023 11:08 am IST

Published - May 21, 2023 02:02 am IST

A year-old video that has resurfaced and gone viral after Siddaramaiah was finalised as Karnataka’s Chief Minister shows him keeping pace with a group of folk Veera Makkala Kunita dancers at a temple jathre (fair) in his native village Siddaramanana Hundi in Mysuru district. The 75-year-old, who on Saturday was sworn in for a second term after a full-term stint between 2013 and 2018, is a leader who has been able to retain a rustic connect with the last man in a hierarchical society through not just gestures of this kind but also pro-poor schemes often pejoratively referred to as “freebies.”

Born in a disadvantaged family of the shepherd community (Kuruba, an OBC caste), the unfavourable family circumstances had compelled him to skip schooling for some years. He took to cattle grazing to help the family and danced with the temple’s Veera Makkala Kunita troupe when free. He eventually joined Class 4 directly, thanks to a local teacher who spotted his potential. Mr. Siddaramaiah went on to complete a B.Sc. from Mysore University, the first to do so from his family, and later studied law. During the announcement of the Anna Bhagya (free rice) scheme in the very first Cabinet meeting after being sworn in back in 2013, Mr. Siddaramaiah had said his aim was to make Karnataka free of hunger, which he had seen all around him in his growing years. The first Cabinet meeting in his second term too, on Saturday, began with announcements of the Congress manifesto’s “guarantees” or welfare schemes. Mr. Siddaramaiah was drawn to Socialist ideals of Rammanohar Lohia during his student days and often cites them as one of the reasons behind his abiding faith in welfarism.

Watch | Who is Siddaramaiah?

In fact, Mr. Siddaramaiah’s political life began in the 1970s when Socialism was a big influence in Karnataka. It was in 1978 that he became a member of the then Taluk Development Board. His association with M.D. Nanjundaswamy, the pioneer of farmers’ movement in Karnataka and founder of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, grew during these years which he has acknowledged as a significant influence in his politics. Mr. Siddaramaiah fought the Lok Sabha election in 1980, but lost. He contested the Assembly election next in 1983 from Chamundeshwari seat (in Mysuru district) as a candidate of the Lok Dal and won.

As a legislator who had supported the Ramakrishna Hegde-led Janata Party government then, he was made chairman of Kannada Kavalu Samiti (Kannada Watchdog Committee). A linguistic and regional pride slant in his style of politics, sown in this phase, has remained throughout his career, with his last tenure as Chief Minister being headlined by moves such as the demand for an official State flag. In a career spanning over four decades marked by several electoral gains and losses, Mr. Siddaramaiah has been associated with the Janata Party, the undivided Janata Dal, the Janata Dal(S) and eventually the Congress since 2006.

Shift to the Congress

What led to Mr. Siddaramaiah’s shift to the Congress was the famous falling out with JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda when he felt that he was deliberately denied a chance to be the Chief Minister in the Congress-JD(S) government in 2004, when the late Dharam Singh was picked for the post. His decision to organise and be part of an AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits, fashioned by his ideological predecessor the late D. Devaraj Urs) meet at Hubballi was deemed as an anti-party activity and he was expelled from the JD(S). Though there was a brief period when it was believed that he would float a regional party, Mr. Siddaramaiah eventually joined the Congress in the presence of the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a huge rally in 2006. The old antagonism with the Gowda family has refused to entirely go away, and this is one of the reasons why he was partially blamed for the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government formed after the 2018 Assembly election.

Mr. Siddaramaiah has often said it was the Congress’s commitment to secularism that was a key deciding factor in his choice. True to this, Mr. Siddaramaiah has remained a trenchant critic of Hindutva politics and has never minced words even when the BJP has always attempted to paint him as “anti-Hindu”. Faith in welfarism and secularism have remained constants in Mr. Siddaramaiah’s long political career.

Now, as he takes charge again, Mr. Siddaramaiah is not the same man who as Leader of the Opposition in 2010 led a historic 320-km Ballari Padayatra from Bengaluru to Ballari against illegal mining activities of Gali Janardhan Reddy and his associates. The money from these activities, it is alleged, had funded the first “Operation Kamala” (engineered defections to the BJP) in 2008. This Padayatra is credited to be among the factors that galvanised the party ahead of the 2013 election, which the Congress won against a divided BJP (with B.S. Yediyurappa having then formed the Karnataka Janata Paksha) and led to Mr. Siddaramaiah occupying the top post for the first time.

Most important, Mr. Siddaramaiah, in his second term, is not unencumbered like he was in the first one. Back then, with KPCC president G. Parmeshwar having lost the election, he was the singular choice for the Chief Minister’s post. This time, he had to face a bitter contest from KPCC president D.K. Shivakumar for the top post. It took four days of talks before Mr. Shivakumar settled for the post of Deputy CM after making it amply clear that he had made the “sacrifice” in the party’s interest as a loyalist. The suggestion by default is that Mr. Siddaramaiah continues to be an “outsider” and has a tendency to prioritise self over the party, two tags he has not been able to shake off even after nearly two decades of association with the grand old party.


The tug-of-war with Mr. Shivakumar also should be a warning sign to the newly sworn-in Chief Minister that this term will require him to be far more careful and accommodative in his political manoeuvres. The 135-seat-strong victory also means that a rainbow social coalition has voted the party to power and that all those who have contributed to the victory will now want a share of the power pie. He will have to be particularly wary of a possible consolidation of upper castes from within and outside his party (of Lingayat, Vokkaliga and Brahmin), who have always perceived Mr. Siddaramaiah as antagonistic to them in the context of his AHINDA politics.

Above all else, Mr. Siddaramaiah, as the head of the government, has to deliver on the promises made ahead of the elections. The promised social welfare “guarantees” of the Congress manifesto will require financial jugglery which he may be able to pull off given his acumen and experience of presenting a record 13 State Budgets. Tougher challenges may be in setting right the mess that has been made of the reservation matrix by the previous government, amid possible opposition from dominant caste groups, and delivering on the promise of governance free of corruption (or more practically, of scaled-down corruption), considering that an important part of the Congress campaign was around the “40% sarkara” allegations against the BJP government.

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