New Double-Engine Sarkar in Karnataka

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Congress finally manage to work together as a team

(Anita Saluja)

Soon after scoring a spectacular electoral victory in the Karnataka Assembly elections held on May 10, the Congress was plunged into a prolonged political crisis, as both Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister and Karnataka PCC President D K Shiva Kumar crossed swords on who should don the mantle of State Chief Minister. The Congress High Command burnt the midnight oil to bring about a truce between the two warring camps of Siddaramaiah and D K Shiva Kumar. Any inordinate delay in ending the tussle would have not only vitiated the atmosphere but even threatened to squander away the gains of this sensational victory.

The Congress did finally manage to get them both to agree to work together as a team, with Siddaramaiah as the Chief Minister and D K Shiva Kumar as Deputy Chief Minister and Karnataka PCC President till the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

Now, Siddaramaiah and D K Shiva Kumar have come together, as the new Double-Engine Sarkar in Karnataka. The big question, however, is how viable is this new arrangement, so painstakingly worked out by the Congress High Command. Will the truce endure at least till the Lok Sabha elections in May, 2024? The Congress High Command has entrusted Siddaramaiah and D K Shiva Kumar with the task of ensuring that the Congress wins a large number of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, during the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2024.

Soon after the Karnataka Assembly elections results were declared, D K Shiva Kumar had raised his pitch very high, making it clear that he would settle for nothing less than the post of State Chief Minister. Even in the event of power-sharing through rotational Chief Ministership, he insisted that he should get the first stint in office. Much to the surprise of many, overnight, he changed his position dramatically by succumbing to the pressure. Apparently, there has been some convincing assurance given to him that seems to have placated him, particularly on power-sharing between the two leaders, Siddaramaiah and D K Shiva Kumar. Sonia Gandhi is understood to have reached out to D K Shiva Kumar, breaking the ice and persuading him to come on board.

The moot question is whether Siddaramaiah and D K Shiva Kumar will manage to sink their differences and work together as a team, especially in the run up to the crucial Lok Sabha elections in 2024. The experience in the Congress has not been particularly encouraging. Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and Bhupesh Baghel and T S Singh Deo in Chhattisgarh pulled in opposite directions. In Madhya Pradesh, differences between Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia forced the latter to break ranks with the Congress and join the BJP. So, will it work in Karnataka, is what remains to be seen.

In fact, Siddaramaiah-Shiva Kumar Duo makes an ideal team. They complement each other. Siddaramaiah is a mass leader, who united SCs, STs, OBCs and Minorities, in a caste alliance known as Ahinda in Karnataka. Late former Karnataka Chief Minister D Devaraj Urs is credited with conceiving the Ahinda combination, just as Madhavsinh Solanki is considered the architect of KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Minorities) in Gujarat. Now, Siddaramaiah has strengthened the Congress hold on the Ahinda. Only the second Karnataka Chief Minister to complete a full term in office from 2013-2018, Siddaramaiah is considered an astute administrator.

Shiva Kumar, on the other hand, is the quintessential organizational man, capable of mobilizing resources. After the truce, Shiva Kumar went on to assert that the Five Congress Guarantees were issued under his name and signature and he has a stake in delivering on the commitments made to the people of Karnataka and in ensuring good governance in the State. If they can really pull together, the Congress can face the challenge of the Lok Sabha elections with a greater degree of self-confidence.

For the Congress, this huge electoral victory in Karnataka was badly needed, as the party has lost out major States. The Karnataka victory will help the party to strengthen its own credentials for taking the lead in its efforts for forging Opposition Unity. The Congress can now aim to replicate its electoral success in Karnataka in other election-going States like in the neighbouring Telangana, besides Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, where the Assembly elections are due later this year.

Karnataka Assembly election results are significant, as the Congress fought the BJP and won in a straight contest. As a result, the Janata Dal (Secular) of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda was reduced to irrelevance. The NCP and the AAP, besides the BRS of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao which supported the Janata Dal (Secular), all failed to harm the electoral prospects of the Congress, by dividing the anti-BJP vote. The Congress registered a convincing victory, which proved that the regional players could not establish their relevance beyond their State borders.

If anything, this election only proves that regional players cannot take on the BJP at the national level. In several States, the BJP and the Congress are the principal contenders. This comes in sharp contrast to other Opposition parties, like Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, which, at best, are mere regional players, but not national parties. This victory has helped the Congress to reassert its primacy as the principal challenger to the BJP at the national level. This enhances the Congress credentials, in its efforts for Opposition Unity.

The results also establish that Rahul Gandhi has finally arrived on the national political scene. Rahul Gandhi’s 4,000 km-long Bharat Jodo Yatra, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, did result in an image-makeover for him. He cannot now be taken lightly by his counterparts in the rest of the Opposition. As talks for the Opposition Unity gain momentum, it will be that much easier for Rahul Gandhi to stake claim to leadership.

Surely, after these results, the Congress is highly unlikely to concede the leadership to any other leader from among the other parties in the Opposition. But, this win in Karnataka, which is astounding by all means, is not enough for the Congress. It has to wrest Madhya Pradesh and retain Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in the Assembly elections later this year, to face the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, with confidence.

(The writer is Delhi-based senior journalist and political commentator. Views are personal.)

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