Karnataka will choose its next government less than a year from now, in all likelihood. The term of the current one will end by 24 May 2023. Whether there will be an anti-incumbency wave or not depends not as much on the ruling BJP, but more on the way internal equations in the Congress pan out.
To cut a long story short, the Congress is doing an awesome job of being a diligent and alert opposition party in the state but without a collective leadership. It checks on all counts of unearthing scams, catching ministers on the wrong footing, and finding loopholes within the administration that need fixing. The party has been on a roll. Firing up its own membership drive, and charging up workers to understand the significance of the presence of Congress in independent India.
The Karnataka Congress unit can claim a huge part of the success in getting former minister KS Eshwarappa to resign, owing to corruption charges in allocating public work contracts. But now the senior leaders and the workers of the grand old party are questioning whether Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President DK Shivakumar (DKS) is more of a ‘baggage’ than a star in the state. Many stalwarts of Karnataka Congress fear that Shivakumar’s ‘ ‘no-filter’ demeanour can cost the upcoming elections dearly.
Baggage or star
Former CM and Opposition leader Siddaramaiah, DKS and election campaign committee chairman MB Patil, among others, should have been a picture of the completed puzzle for the people at large – showing strong solidarity in collective leadership by now. But, much to the chagrin of Congress and mostly to the benefit of BJP, Shivakumar made a rather sweeping statement against senior Congress leader and former home minister MB Patil saying that BJP higher education minister Ashwath Narayan had met Patil seeking his help to abstain any attacks on him from Congress in connection with the PSI recruitment scam. The possibility or the appropriateness of this act as claimed by DKS is a point apart. But, surely, he could have exercised some caution in this case.
Patil, who is known to be close to Siddaramaiah, was quick enough to dismiss it, calling it a ‘cheap shot’ and saying the meeting was personal, not political. This comes at a time when the BJP is courting Lingayats and making them a close voter base by succumbing to some of their demands and continuing to appoint leaders from the community to vantage positions much to the displeasure of the other supporting communities. The Congress, on the other hand, didn’t have a Lingayat leader in ages. Now that the party has MB Patil as a representative of the community, a top leader making a statement that was immediately dissed widely, forces one to think whether the Congress is here to make amends, or further mess up its tracks. Patil is considered the most popular Lingayat leader after former BJP CM BS Yediyurappa.
Congress needs to get it together
Senior leaders in the Karnataka Congress have probably sounded out the top leadership about their challenges as far as the state command is concerned. Today, the Basavaraj Bommai-led government is on the back-foot with allegations of 40 per cent graft charges being levelled against it by the Contractors’ Association. But, really, what is the merit of the Congress party in this, with many senior leaders themselves fighting charges of corruption on their own account?
Only collective leadership will help the Congress assume power in Karnataka, and the sooner the state leadership understands this, the better it would be for the party. The BJP has often laughed off claims made by the Congress regarding graft since two of the top Congress leaders, were caught on camera discussing the fissures of ‘corruption’ within their own party leadership.
With this being the case, has the KPCC President bitten off more than he can chew? When former Mandya MP and actor Ramya aka Divya Spandana, who had tweeted in support of Patil, pointed out the need for collective leadership, she was trolled by her own party members. She shared those screenshots on Twitter, exposing the dissidence within Congress in a rather stark manner. And the complaint travelled far, what with her being former social media in-charge and close to the top echelons of the party, KPCC leaders have been told to ‘take it easy’. The road now seems to have twisted on its own accord.
Unless the Congress gets down to cleaning up its own house, Karnataka—which seems like a state the party can claim again with some effort—will be gone from its ‘favourites’, irredeemably for a long time in the future.
Preethi Nagaraj is a senior journalist and political reporter. She tweets @WordDissent. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)