The litmus test for the Congress has ended with a sweeping victory this time in Karnataka as the grand old party bagged 135 seats in the Legislative Assembly elections 2023.
After witnessing resort politics and coalition drama in the last election, most voters in Karnataka were hoping for political stability. The result has boosted the morale of the Congress, but the party is still mulling over whom to choose as chief minister until the said “legislature party meeting" scheduled for 14 May. While Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar have been at loggerheads for quite some time over who should get prominence in the party, the Congress put up a collective front for Assembly elections 2023, say party observers.
The CM Race Is On
Here's what played out soon after the results were declared on 13 May: Just as DK Shivakumar, who had visited AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge, was leaving to address a joint press conference at KPCC office in Bengaluru KPCC office, his convoy returned to Kharge's residence. Reason: Shivakumar had spotted Siddaramaiah entering Kharge's home after his return to Bengaluru from his constituency, Varuna.
While what transpired in the meeting between the leaders at Kharge's residence is not known, Mallikarjun Kharge later addressed the press with a noncommittal response, as he said:
“The senior leaders of the party will meet to discuss the future course of action. Once all the MLAs return to the capital city, we will hold a legislature party meeting where the elected representatives will select their CM candidate. The decision will be conveyed to the high command, which will confer the CM’s title to the selected CM aspirant.”
While the Congress is yet to decide its CM, here's what the MLAs of Congress – some of who support Siddaramaiah and other who support Shivakumar – had to say.
Why Siddaramaiah Is in the CM Race
After being expelled by the JD(S) following differences with party chief HD Deve Gowda, he garnered the support of Bahujan voters or the Backward Classes and joined the Congress in 2006.
As he emerged as Karnataka's Ahinda (a Dalit-Bahujan-Minorities coalition) leader in the Congress, Siddaramaiah led the party to victory in 2013 Assembly elections after leading a march to Ballari, challenging the mining-scam-ridden Reddy brothers – Gali Janardhana Reddy and G Somashekara Reddy – who were close confidants of BJP leader BS Yediyurappa.
“Siddaramaiah built the party and worked so hard to ensure Congress formed the government in 2013. This time too, he traveled through the length and breadth of Karnataka, to repeat a 2013 victory for the party. He deserves to be CM,” stressed a Congress source.
Another party source said that with Siddaramaiah contesting for the last time in Karnataka election, his effort needs to to be suitably rewarded. “The Congress must not make the same mistake as BJP did with Yediyurappa,” the source added, alluding to the debacle BJP faced after BS Yediyurappa was removed from the CM's role.
When The Quint interviewed Siddaramaiah recently during his campaign, the CM aspirant claimed that people of Varuna wanted him to contest the election from this constituency and become the CM. He even emphasised, “The Congress will cross 130. I will write it and give it to you!”
A Siddaramaiah supporter batted for him saying the CM’s seat should be given to the 75-year-old leader as Shivakumar may continue to face money laundering cases foisted on him by central enforcement agencies and not be able to serve the entire term as the chief minister.
Why DK Shivakumar Is in the CM Race
DK Shivakumar entered politics in the 1980s. He rose through the ranks of the Congress party and emerged as one of the strongest forces that played a pivotal role in forging an alliance between the Congress and the JD(S) in 2018, despite BJP emerging as the single largest party.
Earlier in 2017, a little before the election to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, DK Shivakumar was instrumental in moving 42 Gujarat Congress MLAs to his resort in Bengaluru to prevent them from being poached.
Moreover, party sources are of the opinion that the Congress needs to follow the protocol of selecting the state party president as the chief minister.
“It was only in 2013 that the Congress didn’t select the party president of the state because G Parameshwar had lost the election then,” the source explained. Another Shivakumar supporter said the 62-year-old should become the CM because he has been at the receiving end of the Centre's wrath. Shivakumar has been subjected to several raids by investigating agencies in the past for taking on the Centre, his supporter said. He should be rewarded for his efforts, the Shivakumar supporter said.
As Congress MLAs are getting ready for the CLP meeting, the Congress is yet to cross the hurdle of choosing the most liked CM possible.
(Pratiba Raman is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru.)