Two to tango: On the Congress settling the leadership issue in Karnataka

The Congress must demonstrate the success of its inclusive vision in Karnataka 

Updated - May 19, 2023 12:32 pm IST

Published - May 19, 2023 12:20 am IST

The gloss of a massive victory in Karnataka was somewhat dulled for the Congress as its two key leaders locked horns for the post of Chief Minister, but the settlement that emerged on Thursday serves it well, tactically and strategically. Siddaramaiah will return as Chief Minister after a five-year stint as Leader of Opposition, but this time, he is expected to be more accommodative towards the party’s sentiments and requirements. D.K. Shivakumar, who for good reasons believed that his claim for the top post was stronger, will become Deputy Chief Minister besides retaining his post as president of the Pradesh Congress Committee. The arrangement apparently also involves a change of guard after the 2024 Lok Sabha election when Mr. Siddaramaiah will make way for his deputy. Mr. Shivakumar holding two posts is against the declared policy of the Congress, but that is a reasonable price to pay for maintaining harmony within the party. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were the final arbiters, but credit is also due to the party president, Mallikarjun Kharge, who showed leadership in reconciling the many conflicts that emerged within the party immediately after the victory.

In fact, the Karnataka campaign as well as the process of selecting a new leadership showed the remarkable capacity and maturity of Mr. Kharge, Mr. Shivakumar and Mr. Siddaramaiah. They represent three different personas, styles, and constituencies. The incoming Chief Minister is an uncompromising champion of caste justice who could confront his own party in the process, while Mr. Shivakumar is a quintessential organisational man who can manage interest groups while being fiercely loyal to the Congress party even in the face of many odds. Mr. Kharge, through his affable style and earthy appeal, has emerged as a national leader. He gave a major fillip to the party in Karnataka, and will potentially do so in other parts of the country as well. One point that all three of them shared though the campaign was a steadfast defence of communal harmony and Hindu-Muslim relations. The Congress has rebuilt its original character of being an umbrella platform that carries with it people of all religions and castes, through the Karnataka campaign. While Congress workers will be looking up to Mr. Kharge to carry the Karnataka model to other parts of the country, the incoming Chief Minister will have the task of sustaining the momentum for the party in the State. He will have to deliver on the promises made to the people, and build a Karnataka model that works for the people, and consequently, for the Congress within the State and elsewhere in the country.

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