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Battle royale rages in Karnataka Congress over power sharing formula for CM’s post

DK Shivakumar (Left) and Siddaramaiah(Right)

Bengaluru: The supporters of Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar have started a “street war” on whether there is an agreement or not over power sharing in the Congress for Siddaramaiah handing over power to Shivakumar after 30 months.

Even as the eight ministers sworn in last Saturday, that is a good six days ago, have been left twiddling their thumbs as they have not yet been allocated portfolios due to the sharp differences within the party, MB Patil, a staunch Siddaramaiah loyalist, sparked a controversy by saying, “Siddaramaiah will hold office as chief minister for five years, which has been made clear by the party high command.”

The Shivakumar camp immediately took strong exception to Patil’s statement by pointing out that after five days of hard bargaining in New Delhi last week Shivakumar agreed to become deputy chief minister “for now”’ after the central leaders assured him that Siddaramaiah would make way for him after two-a-half years and he would be installed as chief minister.

 Siddu camp firm on ‘no change’

Patil’s contention, however, was that Randeep Surjewala, while announcing the ‘truce’ between Siddaramaiah and Shivkumar, clearly told the media that “power-sharing was only with the people” and there was no proposal to change the leadership midway.

Considering Patil’s proximity to Siddaramaiah, it appeared to be an attempt to send a message to Shivakumar’s supporters that there was no question of Siddaramaiah stepping down after half his term and that it had been made clear to the party high command.

Reacting strongly, Shivakumar’s brother and Congress MP, DK Suresh said, “I can respond to Patil equally sharply, but I will hold myself for the time being. I will reveal everything (about the ‘understanding’ hammered out by the Congress leadership on the chief minister’s post) at the appropriate time. Someone should tell Patil to hold his tongue.”

KPCC working president Saleem Ahmed said, “It is not proper for us to discuss about power sharing publicly. What were the points of discussion, only five people, including Mallikarjuan Kharge, KC Venugopal, Randeep Surjewala, Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar, know. No one else knows what really transpired at that meeting. Let’s concentrate on giving a good government and try to meet the expectations of the people. That should be our priority. Let’s leave the rest to the senior leaders.”

 ‘Walls have no ears’

Priyank Kharge, who is seen as a future chief minister said, “Nobody should speculate over what happened inside the four walls. We will all get to know at the right time. At the legislature party meeting, at least, there was no discussion about power-sharing. It is not relevant to talk about it now.”

Dinesh Gundu Rao, a former KPCC president and Siddaramaiah loyalist said, “Was there any mention of sharing power when Siddaramaiah became chief minister for the first time in 2013? Why is it being debated now? It is totally irrelevant.”

Shivakumar, usually not known to stay quiet, for once maintained that he was not bothered about what the others said. “I won’t react to anyone’s statement. There’s the party president and the AICC to look into all these matters. So, I don’t want to react.”

Apparently, tension has been brewing between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar as both carry massive egos and neither one is ready to accept the other as a ‘superior’. Though Shivakumar claims proximity to Sonia Gandhi and is hopeful of her supporting his candidature for chief ministership at the earliest, Rahul Gandhi believes that Siddaramaiah is a mass leader with far more maturity and he carries some weight when he criticises prime minister Narendra Modi. During Siddaramaiah’s grand 75th birthday celebrations at Davangere last August, Rahul Gandhi was so impressed with the crowd that had gathering for the event that on that very day he virtually anointed Siddaramaiah as “the next chief minister of Karnataka.”

Shivakumar, however, believes that coming from the Vokkaliga community, he contributed far more to the Congress party’s recent Assembly victory than Siddaramaih. The numerically strong Vokkaligas had moved away in large numbers from the Janata Dal (Secular) and voted for Congress as they believed that Shivakumar had “the best chance” of becoming the chief minister and promote the interests of the community.

Ramakrishna Upadhya writes on Karnataka politics from his perch in Bengaluru. Views expressed are personal.