Karnataka Congress’ ever-squabbling duo – DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah – seem to have reached a consensus right before the Assembly election which is expected to be held in two months.
Clearing the air, Shivakumar, the KPCC President and Siddaramaiah, the Leader of Opposition were seen together at two separate instances – Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and Congress’ election campaign tour, Praja Dhwani Yatra which kicked off in the first week of February.
While it is apparent, even to booth-level Congress workers, that both Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar are eyeing the CM's chair, senior Congress leaders say both have agreed on most aspects of the election campaign, except one bone of contention – candidate selection.
Rahul Gandhi’s Push, Kharge’s Involvement, and AICC's Grip
According to a senior Congress leader, the starting consensus between the two was engineered during the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) which snaked through Karnataka in October 2022. The mood of the yatra, which got massive response in the election-bound state, was such that the two leaders had to rally behind Rahul Gandhi.
“After Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Congress leadership in Karnataka is sensing electoral victory. Each leader thinks that they could come back to power Both DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah have broadly agreed on several aspects of the campaign, strategy, and communication,” a senior Congress leader told The Quint.
The BJY made the leaders move towards ignoring their differences because workers of the party had turned largely intolerant towards such discord, given the unifying mood of Rahul Gandhi’s march.
Besides, Mallikarjun Kharge’s ascent to the top post – national president – of the party too has played its part in bringing the leaders together, a national leader of the Congress told The Quint.
Kharge, who is a leader from Karnataka's Bidar, had told both Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar to prioritise the election campaign over individual political goals, a state leader of the party said.
“The larger consensus was designed by Kharge, who has been clear from the very beginning that Karnataka should be won back,” the leader said.
Another Congress leader said, “It has basically been drilled down to the two of them that they need to be together for the party to win.”
While Kharge held the whip, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) has been tightening the grip on the two Karnataka leaders. “Randeep Surjewala (AICC Karnataka in-charge) knows that if any discord brings down the party in this election he will be answerable. So the AICC has communicated to both the leaders that the campaign should be their first priority,” a senior Congress leader explained the AICC’s role forging the consensus.
However, the forged unity could get a jolt when the Congress sits down to select their candidate for the election, a Congress leader, quoted earlier, said.
The Ticket Game
DK Shivakumar is known to be a leader who is infuential in Bengaluru and the surrounding rural constituencies. DK Shivakumar’s presence is felt also in Ballari and Belagavi, a Congress leader said. Siddaramaiah is a leader who can draw minority and Backward Class voters. While their roles in the Congress are different, each are likely have their own set of preferred candidates.
“In seats where winnability quotient is high, we won’t have any trouble, as consensus could be arrived at easily. But in some 50 to 55 seats where candidates and their loyalties (to each of the leaders) are not apparent, we could face some trouble,” a Congress leader said.
Meaning, Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar could insist on fielding their favourite candidates and end up being disappointed with AICC’s choices in a few cases.
Candidate selection is pivotal because the winners could decide the fate of their leaders. If Congress wins the election, the leader who can guarantee the loyalty of the highest number of MLAs could become the chief minister. “Ultimately, it comes down to the number of MLAs who are willing to support you,” a Congress leader said. Here’s when Congress could face its next challenge.
“Congress’ history in Karnataka shows that leadership battles within the party had never been debilitating. For example, early on both Mallikarjun Kharge and SM Krishna were contenders for the coveted post of the CM. But this rivalry never caused any trouble for the party when Krishna was favoured for the role over Kharge,” a Congress leader said. In 2013 election too, there were differences between different factions of the Congress, but this did not affect the party which came to power with a thumping majority, he added.
While in states like Rajasthan and Punjab, the Congress has suffered because of rivalry between top leaders, the leadership war in Karnataka is inconsequential to the party, several Congress leaders said.
Congress Calls It ‘Competition’ Not Rivalry
When The Quint reached out the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose candidates will lock horns with Congress candidates in the election, a leader said, “Congress can downplay the leadership crisis in the party, but we are aware that this will affect their chances in the election at a time when the BJP has no any such crisis.”
The BJP, however, does have its own share of leadership troubles. While Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai seems to be the face of the party this election, veteran leader BS Yediyurappa is still lurking in the shadows, with an ambition of seeing his sons – BY Vijayendra and BY Raghavendra – reach the helm of the saffron party.
Does this mean that both the Congress and the BJP are on equal footing in the state?
A Congress leader said, “The Congress needs competition between DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah. Siddaramaiah, who can bring in minority and BC voters, does antagonise Lingayat and Vokkaliga voters. But DK Shivakumar can bring the Lingayats and Vokkaligas back to the Congress. What’s happening between them is only competition which could help the party.”
Currently, Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah are both campaigning in different parts of the state – each catering to their own strengths. Will this strategy work for the Congress in Karnataka?
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