Bengaluru: As D.K. Shivakumar officially took charge as the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) Thursday, he did something the party hasn’t done before in the state as an attempt to take on the tech-savvy BJP.
The event was live-streamed via over 12,000 LEDs, which were placed in 6,608 panchayats (2 LEDs in each panchayat), 30,000 Zoom platforms, Facebook live and regional TV channels across the state to connect with nearly 10 lakh people. In total, the event was screened at 7,800 locations across the state.
In the wake of the Covid crisis, it was only BJP that was reaching out to people through virtual rallies. But now with this event, Karnataka Congress under Shivakumar’s leadership seems to have taken on the BJP’s digital initiatives.
Shivakumar was appointed as the state Congress chief on 11 March, but he formally took over Thursday.
Calling the ceremony Pratijna Dina (Pledge Day), the Congress has done what it had never attempted earlier in the state — use technology to reach out to every party worker upto the gram panchayat level and allowing them to participate in the ceremony.
“Pratijna Dina is a step towards strengthening the Congress organisation and empowering karyakartas across Karnataka. A step towards ensuring that the voice of the worker is the voice of the party,” said Shivakumar at the event.
During the event, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra called Shivakumar to extend their wishes.
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Former KPCC chief Dinesh Gundu Rao put Rahul Gandhi’s call on speaker for all to hear.
“Congratulations to D.K. Shivakumar ji and the Congress party,” Rahul was heard speaking.
“I hope Shivakumar ji will work in the interest of the party and the people of Karnataka, particularly the weaker sections, who are struggling during this time. There is a lot of work the Congress party has to do, during Covid and during the economic disaster that Mr Narendra Modi has visited upon the country. I am confident that Congress and D.K. Shivakumar ji will work with full effort to ensure that we are successful, “ Rahul said.
The ceremony was held on the premises of the new state unit office in Bengaluru in the presence of senior leaders, including Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal, newly-elected Rajya Sabha member Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress legislature party leader Siddaramaiah, former Union minister Rehman Khan, legislative council leader S.R. Patil, and working presidents Eshwar Khandre and Satish Jarkiholi.
The event began with homage being paid to the 20 Indian soldiers, who were killed in a violent face-off with the Chinese troops in Galwan Valley, Ladakh, last month, followed by an exchange of the Congress party’s flag between Dinesh Gundu Rao and Shivakumar — a party ritual signifying official handing over of the post of KPCC.
Party workers spread across 30 districts, which include 462 blocks, over 6,000 panchayats, and municipalities, took part in the event digitally and read the party’s ‘preamble’ with the new KPCC chief.
“We had close to 10 lakh people in attendance (digitally). Technology immensely aided in connecting all the locations, through Zoom platforms, Facebook live and live feed on regional channels to witness the ceremony taking place in Bengaluru,” said Congress spokesperson Y.B. Srivatsa.
Asked if Covid prevention guidelines were followed while conducting the event, senior Congress leader B.L. Shankar said: “Access was restricted to only a select few at the event in the Congress office. Social distancing norms, thermal screening, wearing of masks and oxygen level check-ups were done.”
His journey to becoming the KPCC chief
Besides using technology, like the BJP, to create political and social impact, the state Congress unit, under Shivakumar, is attempting to undertake several other steps to convert it from a mass-based party to a cadre-based party.
Shivakumar’s journey to becoming the KPCC chief had, however, hit several roadblocks, including a delay in announcing his name by the Congress high command to denial of permission to hold this event by the state government, not once but thrice, citing the Covid lockdown.
His predecessor Dinesh Gundu Rao had resigned after the party’s dismal performance in the bypolls in December 2019. After the post fell vacant, Shivakumar reportedly began lobbying for the post.
Intense lobbying continued, and Shivakumar left no stone unturned as he even performed a yajna (fire sacrificial ritual) at Shri Pitambara Peeth Baglamukhi Temple in Datia, Madhya Pradesh, in January to ward off evil forces blocking his path to becoming the party president.
While the Congress high command was keen on naming Shivakumar as the KPCC chief, there was apprehension on whether he could be arrested again by the Enforcement Directorate. Shivakumar had served 50 days in jail for a money laundering case and was released in October 2019.
Another roadblock Shivakumar faced was his nemesis, former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who was strongly against the decision to name him as the state unit chief. The Congress high command further delayed the announcement, saying they wanted to focus on the Delhi elections, which took place in February.
But after having suffered a big setback in Madhya Pradesh with the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Congress finally decided to expedite the long-pending announcement of appointing Shivakumar as the state party chief.
Keep Congress flock together — his next focus
According to some Congress leaders, this is one step towards Shivakumar building his image as an undisputed leader of the party in Karnataka.
He would now focus on strengthening the party, which has developed fissures on account of internal strife and last year’s defections to the BJP, they added.
A few senior Congress leaders ThePrint spoke to further said if Shivakumar manages to keep the flock together, strengthen the cadre and bring the Congress back to power in Karnataka, he could be the front-runner for the chief ministerial post — a dream he has been nursing since he began his political career in the 1990s.
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