Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah’s Hublot is now kept where it clearly doesn’t belong. The Cabinet room in the State Secretariat, where the diamond-studded watch that his political rivals claim is worth more than `70 lakh is kept, is where the socialist-turned-Congressman CM holds meetings to push his trademark pro-poor welfare measures. While the watch is safe in the high-security room, Siddaramaiah’s job is not.
The month-long controversy about the watch’s source followed a movie-like plot with the CM adding emotional quotient by bringing up a supposedly 30-year-old friendship, some Congressmen raking up a scandal involving ex-CM H D Kumaraswamy’s personal life, and the latter adding a theft subplot. The drama in the Assembly, where Siddaramaiah handed over the watch to the Speaker, was part of a larger storyline, and it’s not ‘The End’ yet. The fact that he has been summoned by the Congress leadership adds a new dimension to the saga, especially given the party’s poor show in the recent Assembly byelections.
No prizes for guessing why Kumaraswamy, who first brought the luxury Swiss watch under public glare, can’t stop smiling. Busy as he is scripting the film debut of son Nikhil, the JD(S) leader was at the same time plotting a twist in his political rival’s success story. While Nikhil’s movie, being made at a reported cost of `60 crore, a record for Kannada films, probably didn’t need a script, as it happens with movies, the political plot brought out the skill and guile of politician Kumaraswamy.
His watch rant made even some Congressmen believe that time is up for Siddaramaiah—the dinner hosted by the CM during the week saw only a few legislators in attendance. As Kumaraswamy raised the issue in every speech, the leader himself faced questions over his family’s riches. With Siddaramaiah giving up the watch, which he claims was a gift from an NRI friend of 30 years, Kumaraswamy’s job is nearly done. The rest he will be content to leave it to the CM’s party, which has nearly as many factions in Karnataka as there are leaders.
The rivalry between Siddaramaiah, 67, and Kumaraswamy, 56, dates back to their JD(S) days. Siddaramaiah’s position in JD(S) was next only to H D Deve Gowda till the rise of Gowda’s son Kumaraswamy. He fell out with Gowda after JD(S) tied up with BJP to form government under Kumaraswamy’s leadership in 2006 and was soon expelled. It was then that the socialist, who was an anti-Congressman throughout his political career, became a Congressman overnight. While his stocks soared, Kumaraswamy’s nosedived. The Gowda heir even lost the parliamentary election in 2014. When Siddaramaiah became CM in 2013, heading a Congress government just seven years after joining the party, Kumaraswamy’s party was not even in a position to take the opposition leader’s post.
The days since have seen open sparring between the two, and Siddaramaiah, to his credit, has been able to weaken the JD(S) support base. A Hublot-sporting Siddaramaiah was exactly the kind of opportunity Kumaraswamy was waiting for—it matters little whether he was able to prove the CM’s guilt or not. If it indeed were a movie script, it would go with the catchphrase ‘Time is Ticking Away’. Need we say more on what it means for Siddaramaiah?
(Ravi Shankar is travelling. His column will be back next week.)