DK Shivakumar backs Mallikarjun Kharge for Karnataka CM post, sparks debate

Karnataka has never had a Dalit CM. Senior Congress leaders from the community like G Parameshwara and K H Muniyappa are in the poll fray.
AICC chief Mallikarjun Kharge and Karnataka Congress unit president D K Shivakumar. (Photos | PTI)
AICC chief Mallikarjun Kharge and Karnataka Congress unit president D K Shivakumar. (Photos | PTI)

BENGALURU/CHIKMAGALUR: Amid stiff competition between him and senior leader Siddaramaiah for the chief ministerial post in the event of Congress winning the Assembly polls, Karnataka Congress unit president D K Shivakumar's attempts to bring AICC chief M Mallikarjun Kharge's name into the race, has raised eyebrows within party circles.

The KPCC chief's move to endorse Kharge is being seen by some as an attempt by him to checkmate Siddaramaiah's prospects, by reigniting the debate on 'Dalit CM' and 'native versus migrant' within the party.

Shivakumar's statements that he would "love" to work under Kharge if he becomes the Chief Minister and that there are voices within the party that "injustice" has happened to the veteran leader in the past, have got tongues wagging among many in the state Congress.

However, he has maintained that the party's decision is final.

"He (Kharge) is our senior leader and AICC President. He has not asked for it (CM post), Congress should come to power is his only desire. He is a senior leader and there are some voices that say that injustice has happened to him in the past," Shivakumar said in response to a question regarding bringing Kharge's name to the fore.

Speaking to reporters in Sringeri on Monday, he said, "We should abide by what the party says. Kharge is at the helm of the party. I will leave it to the party, Siddaramaiah and others too will abide by the party. The party is important."

Both Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah are nursing chief ministerial ambitions in the event of the Congress coming to power and have often indulged in a game of political one-upmanship.

It all began with Shivakumar's reply to a question about him backing off from the race if Kharge wants to become the CM, saying that, "He (Kharge) is my leader, he is my AICC president, I would love to work under him. He is an asset to the state and the country. I will abide by the party's decision, he is 20 years senior to me. I'm committed to his wish."

Later, while defending his statement, he said, "He (Kharge) is a senior, he is our AICC president, if we don't support him and his leadership, are we human? Party coming to power is important, not us."

When questioned on Shivakumar's statements, Siddaramaiah on Sunday maintained, "Everyone will abide by the decision of the high command."

According to party sources, Kharge lost out in the race to become Chief Minister thrice -- in 1999 to S M Krishna, 2004 to N Dharam Singh and in 2013 to Siddaramaiah.

Some party functionaries believe the possibilities of Kharge returning to state politics are very limited, given the positions and responsibilities he holds.

"He as AICC President has a bigger role to play in and ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, like leading the party and preparing it for elections and forging opposition unity, among others," a party functionary said.

However, Shivakumar's statements regarding Kharge, an 80-year-old leader from the Dalit community, has once again triggered a debate in the Congress over "Dalit CM", with other senior leaders from the community like G Parameshwara and K H Muniyappa in the poll fray.

Karnataka has never had a Dalit CM, and there has been pressure from a section within the Congress to consider this, as there are several capable leaders in the party from the community.

Throwing his hat into the ring, Parameshwara had recently said he is among the chief ministerial aspirants in the event of the party coming to power.

Parameshwara was Deputy Chief Minister during the Congress-JD(S) coalition government led by H D Kumaraswamy, and was the longest-serving KPCC chief (eight years); while Muniyappa is a veteran party leader and seven-time MP from Kolar.

Also, with Siddaramaiah having already been in the CM post once between 2013-18, there are voices within the Congress that someone "native" or "original" Congressman should be made the chief minister this time.

Siddaramaiah had joined Congress in 2006 after being expelled from JD(S).

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