Congress' Karnataka Dilemma: Crisis Man Shivakumar or Mass Leader Siddaramaiah?

DK Shivakumar is asserting himself as the top leader, while the Congress aims at ensuring unity within the party.

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According to G Parameshwara, the former deputy chief minister of Karnataka, the Congress party in Karnataka will approach the 2023 Assembly elections under a collective leadership, read a report by the Press Trust of India.

The statement comes at time when DK Shivakumar is at the helm of the party affairs in the state, and is projecting himself as a mass leader, while senior leader Siddaramaiah has been consistently leading the party on specific issues, even while retaining his mass appeal.

While the Congress may not name a CM candidate before the 2023 polls, what are the strengths of DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah? Here's what Congress leaders told The Quint.


Could DK Shivakumar Get Vokkaliga Support? 

A year after his elevation as the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president in 2020, DK Shivakumar has been proactively engaging in party activities and campaigns against the government, over issues such as COVID-19 handling, price rise, revision of textbooks, hate speech, and crime.

The party strongman has also been trying to consolidate Congress' Vokkaliga vote base by sharing stage with seers and pontiffs of the Lingayat and Vokkliga community on 18 June 2022, while protesting the alleged saffronisation of textbooks.

"The Vokkaliga community which forms 11 percent of the state's population is a strong vote bank. DK Shivakumar is trying to establish himself as the alternative to HD Deve Gowda. But his effort may not materialise in its entirety," said a senior Karnataka Congress member, requesting anonymity.

While, Siddaramaiah does enjoy the support of the the OBC Kurubas who constitute seven to nine percent of the state's population, DK Shivakumar is trying to get the support of Vokkaliga leadership.

The community which is concentrated in the southern belt of Karnataka, has witnessed a split ever since the coalition government of the JDS-Congress fell in July 2019. Vokkaligas have been traditionally supporting the JD(S). Political observers also find that the there is a chance for DK Shivakumar to capitalise on this vote bank.


A Leader Close to the Gandhis

DK Shivakumar has been firebrand loyalist of the party who rose up the ranks from being a party worker to being elected to the Assembly seven consecutive times.

Shivakumar has always been close to the Gandhi family. In the third week of May, he led the state Congress leaders in a rally to protest against the BJP government in Delhi. Reason? He was rallying against the Enforcement Directorate's alleged harassment of Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald case.

Back home in Karnataka, Shivakumar has been part of protests including those supporting farmers of the state. He also was part of protests against Agnipath scheme and textbook revision.

At the launch of Nava Sankalp Shivir, held on 26 June 2022 at Tumkur, Shivakumar addressed the Congress party workers and said, "A sample survey has predicted that Congress will come back to power in Karnataka."


Siddaramaiah Mass Leader, DK Loyalist Troubleshooter

The Congress in Karnataka has had only three instances where the KPCC president took the office of chief minister. Usually, the man at the helm of party affairs is not given this administrative opportunity.

In Karnataka, it could be said that the Congress requires both a loyal troubleshooter and a mass leader with administrative pedigree.

Speaking to The Quint, political analyst Prof Sandeep Shastri said, "Congress' decision to go into this poll without a declared chief ministerial candidate is a very calibrated move to ensure unity within the party. Announcing a face would automatically lead to divisions in the party. More importantly, both DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah are two very critical pillars of the party, both representing two separate bases of the party, also representing two different strands within the party, of one being a loyalist and other being an strong administrator."

Sources close to the Karnataka Congress confirmed that Siddaramiah is likely to have more sway over the people. However, they also said that the party could definitely benefit from DK Shivakumar being the KPCC president.

Critically analysing the internal dynamics, senior Congress leader VS Ugrappa said that the Congress party had never officially announced the chief minister candidate before the elections.

"Given the different brand of politics that the DK Shivakumar and Siddaramiah have, the central leadership is not able to pin pointedly select a particular leader to guide the party. Instead, the party wants to utilize the loyalist nature and muscle power of DK Shivakumar, while retaining Siddaramiah's mass appeal," he added.

Observing the increasing efforts by the KPCC president to reach out to voters, another MLA belonging to the Congress, who did not wish to be named said, "Mass appeal comes only due to the work you do and not based on position. Definitely, DK Shivakumar being the PCC president has helped him. But, Siddaramiah has proved his mettle both as mass leader and a good administrator."

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