The Congress’s many woes in Karnataka

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah with his deputy D.K. Shivakumar during a meeting with District Commissioners and District Panchayat CEOs, at the Vidhan Soudha in Bengaluru. Photo: X/@DKShivakumar via PTI

The Congress’s below-par performance in the Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka has highlighted the cracks in the party. There has been political shadow boxing between two factions — one supporting Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and the other, his deputy D.K. Shivakumar — with supporters of each leader issuing statements to undermine the other. The situation came to a head on June 27 when a Vokkaliga seer, Chandrashekaranatha Swami, requested Mr. Siddaramaiah to give up the Chief Minister’s post to Mr. Shivakumar.

The Congress fought the Lok Sabha elections in unity, banking on its five ‘guarantees’. However, it put up a poor show, particularly in the Old Mysore region, which is often described as the ‘Vokkaliga belt’ owing to the electoral dominance of the Vokkaliga community to which Mr. Shivakumar belongs. This gave rise to the old demand of appointing more deputy chief ministers. The Congress had swept this region in the 2023 Assembly polls.

The Chief Minister’s loyalists, particularly Cooperation Minister K.N. Rajanna, renewed the demand for the appointment of three deputy chief ministers representing the Veerashaiva-Lingayat, Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe, and minority communities to ensure more electoral support to the party. Given that the party high command had announced in 2023 that Mr. Shivakumar, who holds the post of Congress State chief, would be replaced after the Lok Sabha elections, Mr. Rajanna has also said that a new Congress State chief should be appointed. Other senior leaders, such as Home Minister G. Parameshwara, see nothing wrong in this demand based on the ‘one person, one post’ principle, as Mr. Shivakumar holds multiple portfolios.

The call for more deputy chief ministers was made after the 2023 Assembly results too. A section of Congress leaders believe that it is part of a strategy by Mr. Siddaramaiah’s loyalists to keep Mr. Shivakumar in check amid talks that he might seek the Chief Minister’s post after 30 months of this government’s tenure. They also say that the demand is being made to counter Mr. Shivakumar’s influence, both in the government and in the party. Party leaders have not ruled out a mid-term reshuffle in the government.

In the general elections, the Congress won nine out of 28 seats against one seat in 2019. It fell short of expectations that it would win at least 15 seats. The party’s vote share increased to 45.43% from 31.88%. A survey of the results in each Assembly constituency shows that more than a dozen ministers were unable to provide leads for the party’s candidates. Mr. Shivakumar suffered a major setback when his brother D.K. Suresh was defeated in Bengaluru Rural.

This is why the ministers not only renewed their demand for more deputy chief ministers, but also for the replacement of Shivakumar as Congress State chief. The Vokkaliga seer’s request to Mr. Siddaramaiah intensified the war of words between the loyalists of the two leaders. After his statement, Veerashaiva-Lingayat seers urged the party to consider leaders from their community for the top post or for the post of deputy chief minister in the event of a change of guard. Meanwhile, AHINDA, an outfit representing minorities, backward classes, and Dalits, warned of a State-wide agitation against any move to replace Mr. Siddaramaiah, who belongs to the Other Backward Classes community.

In the midst of this leadership struggle, the Congress is fighting other battles too. The party which came to power levelling corruption charges against the Bharatiya Janata Party is now facing allegations of fraud. Congress Minister B. Nagendra was forced to resign for allegedly swindling funds from the Karnataka Maharshi Valmiki Scheduled Tribes Development Corporation. There have also been allegations of irregularities in the Mysuru Urban Development Authority scheme. In this case, allotments made to Mr. Siddaramaiah’s wife have come under the scanner. Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy has insinuated that the scam was exposed by “someone who is eyeing the Chief Minister’s post.”

In this context, the upcoming by-elections to three Assembly constituencies and the elections to urban and local bodies will be an acid test for the Congress. Providing a clean administration and keeping the party and government united will be the party’s major challenges.

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