Troubling shadow fight in Karnataka Congress

The feud has left the government directionless; there is no focused attention on welfare or developmental projects.
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah and Deputy CM D K Shivakumar
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah and Deputy CM D K ShivakumarPhoto | PTI

A storm is brewing in the ruling Congress in Karnataka between the groups supporting CM Siddaramaiah and Deputy CM D K Shivakumar, which has hit governance in the year-old dispensation. If Siddaramaiah’s supporters are demanding appointment of more Deputy CMs ( DCMs), followers of Shivakumar (DKS) want to replace Siddu with him. Hardly a day passes without a section of party functionaries, MLAs or even ministers going public on their demands. This has especially increased after the recent Lok Sabha elections, where the Congress won nine seats out of the state’s 28, as against its target of “at least 20”.

Ever since the Siddaramaiah-led government took over in May 2023, and despite the thumping victory in the assembly polls (135 seats out of 224), the state Congress has been beset with internal squabbles. This has greatly affected governance and in the last year, there has hardly been any notable administrative measure taken up save the set of ‘guarantees’. The government’s decision to raise fuel prices, milk prices, guidance value, etc—it is considering water rate and liquor price hikes—has only added to people’s problems. There is widespread criticism that prices were raised only because the government was facing a serious fund crunch due to the outgo towards the five guarantees. The total allocation towards the guarantees this fiscal is Rs 52,000 crore, up from Rs 36,000 crore last fiscal.

The first wicket of the government fell recently. The shocking scam in the Karnataka Maharshi Valmiki Scheduled Tribes Development Corporation, where funds amounting to crores of rupees were diverted to fake accounts, took the scalp of ST welfare minister B Nagendra.

One of the main planks on which the Congress rode to power was corruption in the then BJP government, but there is hardly any visible action now, except for setting up a committee, to address this menace. If after a year people say there is no difference between the Congress government and the previous BJP one, we need not be surprised. The LS results were a warning for the Congress. There is still time for it to get its act together. If it fails to pay heed, a slap from the electorate could be awaiting the party in the next polls.

The internecine problems were an outcome of the cold war between Siddu and DKS ever since the former was chosen as CM. To be fair, backward classes leader

Siddaramaiah and Vokkaliga strongman DKS have maintained cordiality in public; their supporters are the ones raising the matter often. DKS supporters say there was an understanding when Siddu was chosen as CM that DKS would take over after 2.5 years, while the CM’s supporters deny it.

While Siddu said party leaders should refrain from talking about CM and DCM posts, DKS chided them saying they must go to the high command with their demand instead of talking to the media . The warning by DKS that no party leader should talk about it publicly has had no impact.

However, DKS’s claim to the CM’s post suffered a bit of a setback with the LS results. Congress did badly in the Vokkaliga stronghold of Old Mysore region, especially in Mandya—where JD(S) leader and now Union minister H D Kumaraswamy won—and in Bengaluru Rural—where DKS’s brother D K Suresh badly lost. In several of the region’s seats where Vokkaligas are in good numbers—Mysuru, Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Chitradurga, Shivamogga, and Chikkamagaluru—the Congress came a cropper. DKS’s assembly seat of Kanakapura is part of Suresh’s constituency. That the winner from Bengaluru Rural is C N Manjunath, a popular cardiologist and brother-in-law of Kumaraswamy, a fellow Vokkaliga and arch-rival of DKS, has the latter seething. DKS had put all his might behind Congress nominees in Bengaluru Rural and Mandya. The party also lost in Mysuru, to which Siddu belongs, although it won the neighbouring Chamarajanagar.

The pressure for the CM’s replacement got a push as Chandrashekara Swamiji, a Vokkaliga seer, demanded on June 27, at an event where both were present, that Siddu give up his post voluntarily in favour of DKS “who has toiled hard to bring Congress to power”. This again triggered a war of statements. The CM, responding to a volley of questions, pointed out that it was up to the high command to assess his performance and take a call. The pro-Siddu group raised a fresh demand that there should be a new KPCC president, which means current party chief DKS be replaced. It says the party was following the “one-man-one-post” policy and DKS should abide by that. They claimed his term as party chief was only until the 2024 LS polls.

The demand to replace Siddu has drawn strong reaction from the Ahinda (a Kannada acronym for minorities, backwards and Dalits) group. Ahinda state president Prabhulinga Doddamani warned the Congress of grave consequences if the demand was met and threatened state-wide protests if the incumbent CM was removed. “If they try to remove our beloved Siddaramaiah from power, we warn that the Congress will not exist. The Ahinda will stand by the CM like his backbone.”

DKS in particular and the Congress in general will have another test waiting in the form of bypolls to the Channapatna assembly seat vacated by Kumaraswamy. Channapatna, neighbouring Kanakapura, is part of the Bengaluru Rural LS constituency. Recently, DKS nearly projected himself as a candidate, but backed out later.

The feud has left the government directionless; there is no focused attention on welfare or developmental projects. The factional feud is eating into the goodwill the Congress earned during assembly polls.

(Views are personal)

B S Arun | Senior journalist based in Bengaluru

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