Bengaluru: If there’s one Congress leader who has stuck with the party through thick and thin, it is Doddalahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar.
Shivakumar is the Congress’ troubleshooter; he has bailed it out of many a crisis. This quality is one of the main reasons why he has now been put in charge of the Congress’ Karnataka unit, which is plagued by low morale and lack of fighting spirit.
“He is a fighter and has the capability of strategising and finding solutions even when the chips are down,” political scientists Sandeep Shastri told ThePrint.
“He has the guts to fight and is willing to stick his neck out for the party even when he was embroiled in cases or was jailed,” he said.
Congress’ last resort
Shivakumar is feared by political opponents, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party, because he never hesitates to use money, power or emotions to win hearts as well as loyalty. He is the man the Congress high command naturally turns to as their last “resort” — literally and figuratively.
When the Karnataka assembly election results came out in May 2018, the incumbent Congress had won just 78 of the 224 seats, while the BJP had finished with 103 MLAs, 10 short of a majority. The Congress was afraid that its MLAs would be poached by the BJP while it tried to cobble together a coalition with the Janata Dal (Secular).
Acting on a call from the party high command in Delhi, Shivakumar herded the legislators to a resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Watching over them like a hawk, he took away all communication devices from the legislators. It also helped that the resort is located in his MP brother D.K. Suresh’s constituency.
Even after the Congress and JD(S) formed a coalition government, the threat to destabilise the government continued. In January 2019, three Congress MLAs, Anand Singh of Vijayanagara, Nagendra of Ballari Rural and Ramesh Jarkiholi of Gokak, revolted against the Congress and left for Mumbai. They were later joined by 10 others.
Shivakumar shocked political circles when he was seen one morning standing before the Mumbai hotel where the MLAs were staying. The MLAs and their BJP hosts realised the danger of letting him speak to them.
As he argued with the police, Shivakumar told the media in front of the Renaissance Hotel: “I only have a heart that I have come to extend to my friends. I am not a terrorist… I have come to have a cup of tea in the hotel. Even if I were to collapse here without food, I don’t care. There is no question of leaving this place till I meet them.”
Shivakumar’s skill of keeping the flock together first came to light in 2002, when Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh of the Congress was facing a no-confidence motion. Shivakumar hosted the entire Congress legislators’ contingent at the same resort on Bengaluru’s outskirts. After a week, they were safely shepherded back to Mumbai for the trust vote, which Deshmukh won.
In 2017, when Congress strongman Ahmed Patel fought BJP chief Amit Shah for a Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat, it was again Shivakumar who hosted 44 party MLAs. Patel won his seat but Shivakumar, by then, had been raided by the Income Tax department.
‘Tiger of Sathanur’
Political observers say Shivakumar is a leader who has fought his way to the top. He started off as a student leader, worked through the ranks, and became a junior minister in the S. Bangarappa government in 1990.
His daredevilry came to the fore when, in 1985, he challenged H.D. Deve Gowda, the Karnataka heavyweight who would go on to be prime minister, from the Sathanur assembly constituency. Shivakumar lost, but that would change soon as Deve Gowda retained his other seat, Holenarsipura, and the Congress leader won the Sathanur by-election.
He fought Deve Gowda again in 1989 from Kanakapura and lost. Then, in 1994, he was defeated by the senior leader’s son, H.D. Kumaraswamy, in Sathanur.
In 1999, Shivakumar was the ‘Man Friday’ for Karnataka Congress chief and Deve Gowda’s arch-rival S.M. Krishna, who led the Congress back to power.
Shivakumar worked hard and used his political smarts to gain control over the Bengaluru rural region, and then wrested Kanakapura back from Kumaraswamy in 2004, earning the sobriquet ‘Tiger of Sathanur’. The Deve Gowda family still considers him their nemesis, political insiders say.
Yet, when the Congress high command decided that Kumaraswamy should be the chief minister of the JD(S)-Congress coalition formed in 2018, Shivakumar kept aside his political differences and worked smoothly with Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy.
Shivakumar was accused of holding disproportionate assets, allegedly acquired through illegal granite mining and real estate. A lot of that income also allegedly went into establishing educational institutions.
These were the allegations that the IT department and the Enforcement Directorate followed up, because of which Shivakumar was sent to jail on 20 September 2019. He only got bail 50 days later.
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