Siddaramaiah recent remarks that he will be CM one day has once again rattled the shaky JD(S)-Congress coalition.
Bengaluru: Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah appears to be suffering from the three-month itch.
Over the past two days, Siddaramaiah — who had announced that the May 2018 assembly elections were his last — has only added to speculation that the shaky JD(S)-Congress coalition may not last its term, while making it clear that he is not content at just being the chairman of the coalition government’s coordination committee.
On Friday, speaking in Hassan district, he declared that he was ready to become chief minister again. “I will become the CM again. I am well aware that there were many who had ganged up against me after the 2018 assembly polls and I could not take the post. But we all know that politics is not stagnant, there will be wins and losses. It keeps changing,” he had said.
It was telling that he chose Hassan, the home district of chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and part of the Vokkaliga heartland, to deliver the message.
While Siddaramaiah later clarified that he only meant that the Congress would return to power in the state, by then, his remarks had provoked a response from the chief minister.
“I know what is happening and the efforts that are being made to destabilise this government. I also hear that there is chatter about how a new government may be formed in September and that someone is ready to be chief minister. I will not try to save my position, I am aware of what is happening and am least bothered by it. I will do good work as long as I am the chief minister,” Kumaraswamy told reporters in Bengaluru.
That the two men have an old rivalry is well known but the timing of Siddaramaiah’s remarks has once again cast a shadow on the coalition. ThePrint lists three key reasons for the former chief minister’s apparent reluctance to take a backseat in Karnataka.
Unhappy playing second fiddle
Siddaramaiah is not one to take orders. Since the formation of the government, he has indulged in “letter politics” that has been irking the chief minister and the JD(S). As of July, he had written seven letters to Kumaraswamy in the span of 45 days.
In them, Siddaramaiah has sought the reversal of several decisions relating to his present constituency, Badami, as well as in the Old Mysuru region. He has sought better packages for farmers in the region, called for shifting of the film city from Mysuru to Ramnagaram and urged the government to reverse its proposal to raise taxes on fuel and to reduce the quantity of rice under the Anna Bhagya scheme – the initiative, introduced by him, provides BPL families with 7 kg of rice a month.
While the letters have left Kumaraswamy perturbed, the strategy, ironically, is one that the Gowda family should be familiar with — JD(S) supremo, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, had a habit of writing letters to the then Congress chief minister Dharam Singh during the earlier JD(S)-Congress coalition government in 2005-2006. Siddaramaiah, incidentally, was the deputy chief minister then.
“Deve Gowda used to get these letters hand-delivered by his gunman to Dharam Singh’s office. Obviously, Siddaramaiah seems to be paying him back in the same coin,” said a source in the Congress.
Sources close to Siddaramaiah say that several of his supporters including legislators have complained to him about Kumaraswamy’s functioning. Cabinet minister Ramesh Jarkiholi, a trusted Siddaramaiah aide, recently said that Congress ministers in the cabinet felt stifled as Kumaraswamy, his brother H.D. Revanna and father H.D. Deve Gowda were the ones calling the shots. Sources in the Congress also say that this may be a ploy to ensure that in the upcoming cabinet expansion, Siddaramaiah’s supporters get berths.
Political scientist Sandeep Shastri calls it a classic example of “sabre rattling” in the hometown of a political opponent.
“He may be trying to firm up his presence not only in the state but also within the party. Once he gave up chief ministership, the Congress has been in a flux in terms of leadership,” Shastri said.
“There was no doubt that he was leading the party but recently, the party high command has not been clear on the pecking order in the state unit. In such flux, he (Siddaramaiah) is trying to make the point that the Congress cannot really hope for anything in the future unless he is given the reins,” he said.
During campaigning for the assembly elections, Siddaramaiah had said that it was his last elections but since the coalition has assumed power, he has periodically hogged the limelight while appearing to undermine the government.
Before the ‘letter politics’ and last week’s remarks in Hassan, Siddaramaiah embarrassed the coalition when tapes, allegedly of him, surfaced in June showing him expressing doubts about the survival of the Kumaraswamy government after next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Shastri points out that Siddaramaiah has been doing this at regular intervals. “This also indicates that there is a power struggle in the state Congress. If you notice, even though they are the bigger party, they have left the initiatives to the JD(S), which is scoring the political brownie points. Siddaramaiah appears to be making the point that this is happening because the Congress is not asserting its position as it should,” he adds.
State Congress president Dinesh Gundurao, however, clarified that Siddaramaiah’s statements were a response to a question from the crowd and that the Congress respected the former CM.
“The Congress has given him a huge amount of respect. He is the only CLP leader in the country to be made a Congress Working Committee member. He shares an excellent equation with Rahul Gandhi. He has made it clear that till the next elections, there is no question of anybody else being the CM. We have given the JD(S) full support; so, till the next assembly elections, the question does not arise.”
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