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Faction fights, dynastic politics and Congress culture—battle for the CM’s post in Karnataka exposes it all

DK Shivakumar (left) and Siddaramaiah (right) have locked horns of CM’s post after Karnataka elections (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@SanjayBragta)

If you are a gambler and have occasionally visited a casino, you will surely know how the gamblers play: They will be ready to go for $10 million or nothing!

Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, the two top contenders for the chief minister’s post in Karnataka seem to be playing for a similar “zero-sum game”, as the Congress high command has been caught napping even with a massive mandate of 135 seats in the recently concluded Karnataka Assembly elections.

The people of Karnataka, who voted decisively for one party, don’t know even four days after the results, whether the Congress high command will choose Siddaramaiah or Shivakumar to be the 23rd chief minister of the state.

Even as the Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi and her daughter, Prayanka Gandhi, had taken off to Himachal Pradesh for a holiday, their loyal satrap and Congress president, Mallikarjuan Kharge was entrusted with the responsibility of finding a solution to the ‘Karnataka headache’. KPCC president DK Shivakumar, who claimed being ‘unwell’ on Monday and reached the national capital only on Tuesday, had an audience with Kharge and reportedly presented a “25-point charter” describing why he deserved to be the chief minister more than Siddaramaiah.

135 seats at Sonia’s lotus feet

Shivakumar’s simple logic was that whatever the claim made by Siddaramaiah about the number of MLAs supporting him, he, as KPCC president, had delivered “135 seats at the lotus feet of Soniaji” as promised by him when he was made KPCC president in 2021.He also told Kharge that having kept his promise, he deserved to be the chief minister and “I’m not ready to accept any other post.”

Siddaramaiah, who, apparently has a majority of MLAs backing him, met Kharge separately after Shivakumar had left, made it clear to Kharge that he had “won this election for the party” as he had the backing for several communities and he was a “natural choice” to be the chief minister. He also made it clear that since this was his ‘last election”, he would like to have “a full term of five years” to implement the people-oriented welfare schemes he had in mind.

Among the formulae being considered were 30 months each as chief minister to Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar or making Shivakumar the deputy chief minister with plum portfolios. Shivakumar reckoned that if he were to agree to the formula, he would either be left high and dry like Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan with Siddaramaiah refusing to vacate his seat, or if he were to accept the DCM’s post, he would have to accept “dilution” of the post with two or three more representatives from other communities like Lingayats, Dalits and Muslims being included.

Waiting for the ‘queen’s return

During the day, Kharge held meetings with Rahul Gandhi, Congress general secretaries Randeep Surjewala and KC Venugopal, before having separate interactions with Siddaramiah and Shivakumar. Sonia Gandhi, presently in Shimla, is said to be returning to Delhi on Tuesday night, and Kharge will surely consult her before taking a decision.

Sources say that Shivakumar would have taken a ‘maximalist’ stand to demand the most ‘lucrative’ portfolios for himself and his supporters in the cabinet. He would be eying home, excise and energy departments, as Siddaramaiah has already made it clear that he would like to keep finance with himself to ensure smooth rollout of five “guarantees” the Congress has promised in the run up to the elections.

Siddaramaiah, having presented a record number of 13 budgets, will be hard-pressed to find resources to implement the promises made before elections as they were supposed to cost between Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 60,000 crore, which is more than one-fourth of the state’s budgets. Rahul Gandhi, in his euphoric response to the election outcome, has put additional burden on the government-to-come by declaring that a decision on the “five guarantees will be taken at the first cabinet meeting.”

Shivakumar’s open threat

Shivakumar has reportedly told some of his close associates that if he was not made the chief minister, he would prefer to stay out of the cabinet and continue to serve as president of the party. Any drastic decision like that by him could spell danger to the Congress party, as the saying goes, “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop” and he could turn into an evil force and ‘haunt’ the Siddaramaiah government.

Therefore, it is imperative for the high command headed by Kharge to find an amicable solution to the imbroglio over the chief minister’s issue in a day or two to ensure that the people’s unprecedented mandate was not wasted.

Also Read: Gandhi family to take final call as Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar lock horns over Karnataka CM’s post