state of play Comment

In Karnataka Congress, a game of one-upmanship

Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar. File

Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Grand plans for celebrating former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s 75th birthday on August 3 as ‘Amrit Mahotsav’ by his loyalists, at Davangere, seem to have further divided Congress workers on who the chief ministerial candidate should be for the 2023 Assembly elections.

Mr. Siddaramaiah’s loyalists are organising a mammoth public meeting in what is seen as an attempt to project him as the party’s chief ministerial candidate. The meeting is expected to mobilise voters belonging to the minority, OBC, and Dalit communities, which are seen as the primary beneficiaries of the ‘Bhagya’ welfare schemes implemented during Mr. Siddaramaiah’s tenure in 2013-18. Interestingly, sensing victory in the 2013 Assembly polls, Congress leaders had celebrated Mr. Siddaramaiah’s 65th birthday in a big way in Bengaluru in 2012.

In the backdrop of a few leaders quitting the party and many expressing displeasure on the functioning of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president D.K. Shivakumar, an aspirant for the top post, Mr. Siddaramaiah is expected to use the birthday platform to send a message to the party’s rank and file and high command on his popularity. The event would send clear signals to Mr. Shivakumar that side-lining leaders or denying party tickets to those loyal to Mr. Siddaramaiah could prove costly. This intent has not gone down well with those loyal to Mr. Shivakumar.

Strongly defending the plans of his supporters, Mr. Siddaramaiah pointed out that former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa of the BJP too had celebrated his birthday on a grand scale and he himself had attended it. He asserted that the bash is a “political event” and is being organised to showcase the contributions of his government between 2013 and 2018.

While not openly criticising the event, Mr. Shivakumar has on more than one occasion stressed that “organisation is bigger than individual ambition.” In line with what the party high command has said, his camp has asserted that the party would go to the polls under “collective leadership” and “anyone can become the Chief Minister.” A few months ago, the All-India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, Randeep Singh Surjewala, had issued a stern statement that the central Congress leadership and MLAs will choose the Chief Minister at an appropriate time and all Congress leaders will fight the polls in a united manner. In fact, Mr. Shivakumar and Mr. Siddaramaiah were seen huddled together with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi (who is expected to attend the event) in much-publicised pictures, to send out a message that they had buried their differences. However, the developments round the birthday event belie this hope.

Mr. Shivakumar’s brother and Bengaluru Rural MP D.K. Suresh has asserted that the event should not damage the party’s prospects in the coming elections. In their latest move, Mr. Shivakumar’s supporters sought to queer the pitch by arguing that there should also be a ‘Shivakumar Utsava’ to honour the services of the KPCC president. Wary of things going out of hand, Mr. Shivakumar said that he doesn’t want any ‘Utsava’, but only wants to work for the party’s victory.

As of now, both Mr. Siddaramaiah and Mr. Shivakumar are engaged in shadow boxing, while letting everyone know that they are natural claimants to the top post in the event of the Congress coming to power, and leaving no stone unturned to consolidate their position. Ironically, they may be diminishing the prospects of the party in the 2023 polls in this game of one-upmanship, thereby making the question of the chief ministerial candidate irrelevant.

nagesh.p@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jul 18, 2022 1:56:42 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/in-karnataka-congress-a-game-of-one-upmanship/article65650848.ece