New Delhi: H.D. Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah, not to mention Rahul Gandhi and H.D. Deve Gowda, may be basking in the spotlight of having defeated the designs of the BJP to form a government in Karnataka even though it did not have a majority but leaders in the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) have little doubt on who should get much of the credit – D.K. Shivakumar.
Some call him the ‘Tiger of Sathanur’ after the constituency he has represented, others say he is the shepherd of the Congress flock, but they are all unanimous that after his latest success in keeping the party’s MLAs together – and even ensuring the return of two who had gone missing and feared to have crossed over to the BJP – the wealthy Vokkaliga leader from south Karnataka has become the go-to man for the Congress in times of a crisis.
It was a familiar call that went to Shivakumar earlier this week when the Congress won just 78 seats and there was a serious fear that its MLAs would be enticed and poached by the BJP which was eight short of a majority.
A former Karnataka minister and head of the campaign committee in the state for the 2018 elections, Shivakumar moved quickly and bussed the MLAs to Eagleton Resort, 30 km outside Bengaluru on the Mysuru highway. It helped that the resort is owned by his younger brother D.K. Suresh, a Congress MP from Bengaluru Rural constituency.
While it was not easy keeping the flock together in the light of allegedly lucrative temptations from the BJP, Shivakumar had to contend with two MLAs who went missing after the results were declared – Anand Singh and Pratap Gowda Patil.
Both of them surfaced on Saturday morning, the day of the trust vote, apparently on the fence, until phone conversations with Shivakumar – who also has the reputation of being a toughie – is said to have convinced them that Yeddyurappa did not have the numbers and their interests would be better served by staying in the Congress.
Both agreed, and that meant the BJP could not succeed in weaning away even a single Congress or JD(S) MLA.
For 56-year-old Shivakumar though, it was not a first.
Way back in 2002, when the Congress government in Maharashtra was facing a trust vote and chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was trying to keep his MLAs together by moving them out of Maharashtra, he called his Karnataka counterpart S.M. Krishna for help.
Krishna, himself a Vokkaliga strongman from south Karnataka, gave the job to his protégé and a minister in his cabinet: Shivakumar.
DKS, as he is popularly known in Karnataka, took the MLAs to Eagleton Resort and hosted them for a week. And then he escorted the MLAs back to Mumbai and Deshmukh won the trust vote.
Last August, DKS was again entrusted with the responsibility of hosting MLAs from Gujarat before the crucial Rajya Sabha elections. Income tax officials raided the resort and DKS faced extreme pressure from the BJP, but he didn’t budge.
This week’s victory in his home state, however, has special significance and more than a dash of irony.
Shivakumar has all his political career flourished by taking on another Vokkaliga strongman and the tallest leader of the community, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda. So much so that he has even contested one Lok Sabha and one assembly election against him – and lost both – and their rivalry has been legendary.
But this week, Shivakumar buried the past and worked to ensure Gowda’s son becomes the next chief minister of Karnataka. Reason: his party asked him to, say Congress leaders.
Shivakumar was energy minister in Siddaramaiah’s cabinet and is one of Karnataka’s richest politicians. He has varied business interests including in mining and declared assets worth Rs 600 crore ahead of this month’s assembly elections. He does not have a clean slate either when it comes to probity in public life and has faced income tax and corruption cases.
Shivakumar started his political career in 1985 from Sathanur assembly constituency as a Congress candidate against H.D. Deve Gowda. He lost the election but won the seat in the bye-elections after Deve Gowda resigned. He took on Gowda again in the 1989 Lok Sabha election from Kanakapura and lost.
But despite his defeats he began building his influence in the Bengaluru rural region and gained the reputation of a messiah among his supporters and voters.
In July last year, Shivakumar saw a picture from Madhya Pradesh, which showed two minor girls of a farmer ploughing the field in places of oxen. Shivakumar quickly wrote a check for Rs 50,000 and sent it to the farmer to buy oxen.
‘Ambitious and Loyal’
Shivakumar first became minister in the Bangarappa government in 1990 and even though he was a junior minister with a portfolio like home guards and prisons, he was noticed because of his connections, networking and hard work, Congress sources said.
“He is ambitious and loyal to Congress and knows how to get things done,” says a state Congress leader and friend of Shivakumar.
Shivakumar grew in prominence when he was made urban development minister in the S.M. Krishna government. And after his 2002 rescue act for Deshmukh, his reputation in the party soared. Shivakumar and Deshmukh went on to build a strong bond and it helped Shivakumar that his friend went on to become the Congress general secretary in charge of Karnataka.
“He is one of our tallest leaders who really wants to become the chief minister,” says a Maharashtra Congress leader who is a good friend of Shivakumar. “Mark my words and one day he will surely become the chief minister.”
In fact, just before the latest assembly polls, Shivakumar wanted to become the president of the Karnataka Congress. However, the party made him the chief of the campaign committee in the state. At that time, there were rumours that he would join the BJP, rumours that surface every time Shivakumar is denied a position. But he has every time gone with the decision of the party.
Some supporters believe now that he has saved the day for the party, Shivakumar could be made the deputy CM in the alliance government. But with the party eager to promote a Dalit, that position could also end up with state Congress chief G. Parameshwara, others say.
Either way, they say Shivakumar will continue to remain central to the Congress in Karnataka as the party will have to safeguard its MLAs and work for the 2019 general elections.
With inputs from Rohini Swamy in Bengaluru