By P.K.Balachandran/The Citizen
Colombo, May 19: Following a four-day tense struggle to choose a Chief Minister for Karnataka after the Congress party’s victory in the May 10 State Assembly elections, the party high command on Thursday announced that 75 year old Siddharamaiah will be Chief Minister.
The High Command made his rival, D.K. Shivakumar, Deputy CM. Shivakmar is already State party President. After accepting the Deputy Chief Ministership, he said: “It gives me added responsibility.” Apparently, he will continue as the State party President also.
Though disappointed, Shivakumar should be happy because earlier, he was offered only continuation in the post of State party President. The party had contemplated three Deputy Chief Ministerial positions but these were to go to a Lingayat, a Vokkaliga and a Muslim respectively. Shivakumar is a Vokkaliga, but his name was not mentioned.
The older Siddharamaiah was preferred to the younger Shivakumar though a lot of credit should go to the younger man for getting the party machinery to grind ceaselessly to snatch victory against the unconcealed skepticism of arm-chair pundits and the media.
Shivakumar helmed the party machinery as the State President in the campaign while Siddharamaiah was the star campaigner using his political experience and wider caste and territorial acceptability to good effect.
Siddharamaiah had put together a coalition of different castes and religious communities from different regions of Karnataka. He had an appeal among the small backward castes as he himself belongs to the Kuruba caste (herdsmen). Shivakumar on the other hand is a Vokkaliga, a dominant caste though only in the Old Mysore region. Choosing between the two would not have been easy.
Both fought hard to get their due. But the Grand Old Party, as usual, went by its traditional preference for seniority and broad social/caste acceptability rather than youth. Siddhramaiah is undoubtedly a very senior man, having been Chief Minister between 2013 and 2018 and the author of 13 annual budgets as Minister in previous governments.
Siddharamaiah is an example of a common man rising to great heights by dint of his own efforts. Born in an indigent family, he went to college earning degrees in science and law. He is also untainted by corruption charges despite his long innings in politics and government.
Although Shivakumar was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he became a very rich man worth billions, allegedly using questionable means as a politician and minister prior to 2018. Although political vendetta may have been a factor in investigations by Central agencies, he had been charged for corruption and money laundering and had been in jail for a month.
But Shivakumar has been more politically loyal than Siddharamaiah. He began his career in the student and youth wings of the Congress and has stuck to the party ever since. Siddharamaiah. on the contrary, began as an anti-Congress ‘Lohia’ socialist, became a member of the Janata Party, then the Deputy President of the breakaway Janata Dal (Secular) before joining the Congress in 2006. However, he has enjoyed the confidence of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Shivakumar too has enjoyed the support of the Congress top brass in New Delhi having used his wide influence and money power to safeguard Congress legislators in other States where the BJP had set in motion ‘Operation Lotus’ to engineer defections.
Though his failure to get the Chief Ministership now might look like a setback, Shivakumar has time on his side. Siddharamaiah has already declared that this would be his last shot at the Chief Ministership. Shivakumar could make a bid for it in 2028, and more credibly too.