The Congress leadership’s deliberations to select a new Chief Minister for Karnataka remained inconclusive as rival claimants, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief D.K. Shivakumar and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, refused to back down from their respective positions on May 16.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who met both Mr. Siddaramaiah and Mr. Shivakumar at his residence, is likely to hold another round of meetings on May 17, sources said.
Mr. Shivakumar is learnt to have communicated to the central leadership that making him the Chief Minister would be in the interest of the party, pointing out that Mr. Siddaramaiah had previously had a full five-year term as CM, but lost the State election in 2018. Now at 76, the veteran should make way for a new face, he argued.
Party sources told The Hindu that some veterans in the party share the view that Mr. Siddaramaiah, who joined the party in 2006, shouldn’t get one more term, while not necessarily rooting for the KPCC chief.
Party sources told The Hindu that several veterans in the party share the view that Mr. Siddaramaiah, who joined the party in 2006, should not get one more term at the cost of a hardcore party loyalist like the KPCC chief.
‘Siddaramaiah’s loyalists defected’
Digging his heels in, Mr. Shivakumar told central leaders that Mr. Siddaramaiah, while Leader of the Opposition (LoP) and while Chief Minister, had held his personal interests above that of the party’s. It is learnt that in his discussions with central leaders, he catalogued Mr. Siddaramaiah’s actions that apparently hurt the party, including the defections that led to the formation of the BJP government in the State in July 2019. “It was his loyalists who defected,” a source close to the KPCC chief told The Hindu.
Mr. Shivakumar, who arrived in Delhi on Tuesday afternoon, called on Mr. Kharge to present his case later in the evening. Though he did not speak to journalists after this meeting, he had earlier asserted that there was no question of him quitting the party. “My mother is my party. We have built this party. No question,” he said, when asked to comment on reports that he may resign from the party if not given the Chief Minister’s post.
‘Backed by most MLAs
Soon after the KPCC chief met Mr. Kharge, Mr. Siddaramaiah also called on the Congress chief for a one-on-one meeting. On Monday, he had claimed the backing of the majority of the 135 newly elected MLAs, after a team of All India Congress Committee (AICC) observers had taken the views of the MLAs individually.
Subsequently, Mr. Siddaramaiah also had spearate meetings with the AICC general secretary for Karnataka, Randeep Surjewala, and general secretary (organisation), K.C. Venugopal.
Earlier in the day, former party chief Rahul Gandhi joined in for a meeting at Mr. Kharge’s residence where Mr. Venugopal and Mr. Surjewala were present to brainstorm on the leadership tussle.
‘DKS revived party’
The Shivakumar camp seemed firm that the KPCC chief should be given the opportunity to head the government as he had revived the party organisation at a time when it was hit by defections and desertions. His supporters also pointed out that Mr. Shivakumar enjoyed the backing of powerful caste groups such as the Vokkaligas and Lingayats.
They also argued that Mr. Siddaramaiah’s emphasis on personality-based politics did not make him a team player, and alleged that the supporters of the former Chief Minister had sabotaged the election of former KPCC chief G. Parameshwar from Koratagere in 2013.
DKS may face ED wrath
However, supporters of Mr. Siddaramaiah argued that he not only enjoyed the support of the majority of the newly elected MLAs but is also responsible for Congress’ mass outreach among AHINDAs, an acronym for the rainbow coalition of religious minorities, Other Backward Classes and Dalits.
Another argument that is being forwarded is that Mr. Shivakumar could be “troubled” by the Central agencies to embarrass the Congress ahead of the next general election, as he has been questioned and jailed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case. The KPCC chief’s supporters, on the other hand, cite this as an example of harassment by the BJP for Mr. Shivakumar’s loyalty to the Congress.