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

Dynastic politics at play again as Gandhi family will take final call on Karnataka CM's post (Pic. Courtesy ANI)

Bengaluru: After winning the battle against the BJP in the Karnataka assembly elections, a war has broken out in the Congress party between Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar over the chief minister’s post.

The newly-elected Congress Legislature Party (CLP) which met in Bengaluru on Sunday evening to elect a leader, predictably, adopted a resolution authorising “the Congress president to take a decision on the new leader.” The unwritten rule is that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge is not the sole authority to decide and he will do it in consultation with “his high command.”

In fact, soon after the results came out, Kharge had told the media that “the Congress high command consisting of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi will decide on the chief minister,” clearly indicating that he was only a loyal servant of the ‘family’ and did not consider himself as part of the ‘high command’.

Decision in royal darbar

Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar are travelling to New Delhi to appear before the royal durbar and present their respective cases for the CM’s post and will hopefully abide by the ‘royal decree’, whichever way it goes.

Even as the CLP meeting, which was convened at a 5-star hotel in Bengaluru, began two hours late, Randeep Singh Surjewala and KC Venugopal, who act as eyes and ears of the Gandhis, were huddled with Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar in a separate room for an hour trying to find a solution. It is said that both of them were adamant about becoming chief minister, putting forth the claim that each enjoyed majority support among the legislators.

While Shivakumar, who is KPCC president and eight-time MLA, reportedly asserted that he had the support of 75 MLAs, Siddaramaiah said he had 100 MLAs behind him who wanted him to be the chief minister for the second time. Siddaramaiah challenged the party’s central leaders to ascertain the opinion of the elected MLAs or even hold a secret ballot to ‘know the facts’. He wanted the decision to be made at the CLP without wasting time.

It is well known that Siddaramaiah commands more respect and support among the MLAs than Shivakumar, but the central leaders were inclined to move cautiously as they did not want a rift to develop among senior leaders in Karnataka even before the government formation. Besides, it has been a Congress tradition and culture to let the Gandhis hand down a decision on leadership so that the person chosen would always be loyal to the family and listen to its commands.

Kharge to play wise umpire

The Congress party is lucky to have Kharge as president at this point in time as he is a very senior leader from Karnataka and understands its politics better than anyone. Kharge has not revealed his mind so far, but he can be expected to play an even hand and firmly put forth his views before the ‘high command’ to act in the best interest of the party.

In fact, sometime in April, Shivakumar had publicly supported Kharge’s candidature for chief ministership saying he had missed opportunities earlier and deserved to get the top post. Kharge, 80 years old, is a nine-time MLA and two-term MP. He had never been defeated in his long political career until he lost in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Shivakumar’s suggestion was, of course meant to upstage Siddaramaiah who dismissed it as “Shivakumar’s opinion” and he had a right to have one.

It appears that the Congress may arrive at a compromise where Siddaramaiah becomes the chief minister and Shivakumar a deputy chief minister with important portfolios and after two-and-a-half years, Shivakumar will take over as chief minister. Siddaramaiah is firm on a 5-year term as it is his ‘last chance’ and he has the experience to give a good government, taking all the legislators with him. However, he may relent if he is chosen for the first half of the term.

Shivakumar is vary of such an arrangement as Siddaramaiah may not stick to the agreement and with all the cases piled up against him, he may not be able to make a strong claim 30 months down the line.

Further, the demand for deputy chief ministership may not stop at one, as MB Patil, a strongman from Lingayat community and G Parameshwar from the scheduled caste, have made their claims publicly. Patil has argued that the Lingayats have voted in large numbers in favour of Congress for the first time in three decades and it is important to ‘reward’ them in the interest of doing well in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Parameshwar has contended that SC\STs have returned to the Congress’ fold after two decades and they should not be ‘disappointed.’

How will the Congress party resolve this massive conundrum remains to be seen.