Karnataka Cong needs to unite before bypolls

Congress in Karnataka grapples with leadership rift and factionalism post-elections, risking public trust amid calls for change and discipline ahead of crucial bypolls.
Congress Bhavan at Queens Road in Bengaluru.
Congress Bhavan at Queens Road in Bengaluru. File Photo - Hewin Byju , EPS

With the Lok Sabha elections concluded, the Karnataka Congress has done away with all pretence of unity. Having managed to win just nine seats out of 28, the party unit was expected to introspect and come up with strategies for the upcoming byelections to three MLA seats and one MLC post. Instead, it appears to be split down the middle, with leaders and religious seers shadow-boxing on the leadership issue. While one faction is demanding that Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar be made chief minister, the other wants four or more deputy chief ministers. Second-rung leaders from both camps are spearheading the campaigns.

Now, abbots have waded into the issue: Chandrashekhar Swami of Vishwa Vokkaliga Mahasamsthana Mutt appealed to CM Siddaramaiah to make way for Shivakumar, while Channasiddarama Panditaradhya Shivacharya has sought that the top post be given to a minister from the Veerashaiva Lingayat community. The Ahinda (backwards and minorities) section has warned of severe consequences if Siddaramaiah is forced to step down as CM. Both Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar are known for good administration and enjoy broad support among the people.

The two leaders are trying to play things down and have appealed to MLAs to leave such issues to the high command. Siddaramaiah, whose supporters K N Rajanna, Zameer Ahmed Khan and Satish Jarkiholi raised the demand for more deputy CMs, said it is not a matter for public discussion; Shivakumar termed the rift a media creation and warned MLAs to shut up. All this politicking is giving the Congress a bad name.

For a party that has just pulled itself out of political irrelevance in the parliamentary elections, Karnataka is a state where it can bank on strong leaders. It would seem the party has not learnt its lessons from Rajasthan and Punjab, where internecine squabbles cost them the assemblies.

Karnataka’s MLAs should heed Shivakumar’s words that discipline is crucial, and the party needs to understand what went wrong in the Lok Sabha elections as it prepares for the Shiggaon, Sandur and Channapatna bypolls. Religious leaders should function as guiding lights for their communities, and not dabble in power politics. As a party that hopes to take on the BJP, known for its discipline, respect for authority and work-oriented approach, the Congress should inculcate a sense of order among its leaders.

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