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Siddaramaiah & DK Shivakumar back to tussling, but Karnataka Congress leaders say ‘all is well’

Multiple incidents in the last couple of weeks have put the spotlight back on party state chief DK Shivakumar and leader of opposition Siddaramaiah’s tussle for assertion.

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Bengaluru: Even as the two tallest leaders of the Karnataka Congress state party chief D.K. Shivakumar and Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Siddaramaiah attempt to put up a united front to take on the BJP, multiple incidents in the last couple of weeks have put the spotlight back on their rivalry and tussle for assertion in the party.

The latest incident was last week, when former legislator Ashok Pattan was caught on hot mic allegedly complaining about Shivakumar, moments before Siddaramaiah was to address a press conference.

Pattan, former chief whip and ex-MLA from Ramdurg constituency, was heard saying: “D.K. Shivakumar expects everyone across constituencies to surrender to him. Why should anyone surrender to him?” Pattan was seated behind Siddaramaiah, who even warned him of media mics. 

The disciplinary action committee of the Karnataka Congress Tuesday issued a showcause notice to Pattan for “anti-party activities”. 

“We have sought explanation from our leaders on why such comments were made. As a party we need to assess, through a judicial-like process, whether the comments were intentional. Ours is a big and diverse party. We can only issue advisories to members to refrain from such behaviour,” Rahman Khan, chairman of the KPCC disciplinary action committee, told ThePrint.  

Pattan’s comments and the eventual notice is only the latest in a series of events that has exposed fault lines in the Congress. After a lull marked by a show of unity between them, former chief minister Siddaramaiah and aspiring CM Shivakumar seem to be at it again.

Also Read: After Reddy brothers, it’s Jarkiholis. But many Karnataka BJP leaders are upset by their rise

Series of incidents fueling the tussle

The first blow came last month, when Shivakumar was forced to abort his ambitious Mekedatu padayatra midway by the Congress’ central leadership. Sources in the party said that while Shivakumar was steadfast on continuing the padayatra despite a surge in Covid-19 cases, senior party leaders including Siddaramaiah coerced him into giving it up, given the dent the party’s image was taking in the public eye. 

In less than a fortnight, Shivakumar drew blood by ensuring that a candidate of his choice was made the Congress’ leader in the legislative council. On 27 January, Congress gave former Rajya Sabha member and incumbent MLC B.K. Hariprasad the position, much to the displeasure of senior MLC C.M. Ibrahim a close aide of Siddaramaiah. A former union minister, Ibrahim has since chided the Congress publicly, even threatening to resign on 14 February. 

“Many disgruntled senior leaders from all three parties (BJP, Congress and JDS) have approached me. We will launch a new political front A-Linga (Minorities and Lingayats),” Ibrahim had told reporters last week. Senior Congress leader S.R. Patil, a Lingayat, and former minister Roshan Baig meeting Ibrahim has added to his confidence of establishing a new political front. 

“Yes, D.K. Shivakumar pushed for B.K. Hariprasad to be leader of the party in council, but Prakash Rathod, Siddaramaiah’s man, has been appointed chief whip. The party is striking a balance,” a close aide of Shivakumar told ThePrint on condition of anonymity. Leaders from both camps insist that Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar have realised that setting aside their differences is the only shot at victory for the party in the 2023 state assembly elections.

Then came a closed-door meeting between Karnataka tourism minister Anand Singh and Shivakumar. On Monday, Anand Singh, one of the legislators who quit the Congress-JDS coalition in 2019, visited Shivakumar’s residence in his private car, sparking speculation of a possible return to the Congress. Siddaramaiah has on multiple occasions declared that none of the turncoats who quit the Congress in 2019 will be allowed back into the party a stand that contradicts that of Shivakumar.

“Political statements are different from political realities. Closer to the election, when it becomes apparent that the party has more to gain than lose in accommodating these defectors, even Siddaramaiah will welcome them, perhaps with a public apology,” Shivakumar’s aide told ThePrint.

The recent elevation of Mohammed Nalapad a candidate that Shivakumar backed in the Youth Congress polls as president of Karnataka Youth Congress, has added to the KPCC president’s assertion. Nalapad, who first hit the headlines in 2018 for his alleged involvement in a pub brawl at a luxury mall in Bengaluru, took over from Raksha Ramaiah a candidate backed by Siddaramaiah in a 50:50 tenure arrangement following allegations of rigging in the Youth Congress elections.

Recent appointments, like that of U.T. Khader as deputy leader of Congress in legislative assembly, and M.B. Patil as chairman of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee’s (KPCC) campaign committee, are also being seen as a balancing act by the party leadership towards the goal of “collective leadership”, according to party insiders.

Perception of unity still a priority

Despite recent instances, leaders close to both Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar insist that there is no trouble brewing between the two.

“The infighting, if anything, has only reduced. The two leaders I will dare not say have reconciled but have come to an understanding that they need to put up a united front. You don’t see them baiting each other either in public or private,” a senior Congress legislator and former minister who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint, adding that instances of hot mic were without doubt embarrassing and damaging to the party. 

A close aide of Siddaramaiah agreed. “Whether Anand Singh’s meeting or B.K. Hariprasad’s appointment, there are individual differences in choices, but the leaders are clear that putting up a united front is a priority until the elections. Even an inkling of a face-off is damaging,” he told ThePrint. 

“Every discussion, decision is run by Siddaramaiah as well. There will be a face-off, but that will be post election. So far, the united front by both leaders has worked so well that OBC and Vokkaliga vote consolidation is happening at the grassroots level, even in the old Mysuru region where JDS holds a sway over Vokkaliga votes. The two leaders aren’t bickering but those in their camps are doing so to win favour,” Shivakumar’s aide said, adding that the list of CM aspirants included not just the two leaders but also Rajya Sabha leader Mallikarjun Kharge, former deputy CM G. Parameshwara and M.B. Patil.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Karnataka BJP leaders call state minister ‘North Korean dictator’ on camera, party red-faced


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