The Congress high command and the Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramiah may have different plans for the upcoming Assembly polls in the state. After the Congress reshuffled the Karnataka unit of its party on May 31, there is growing speculation in political circles that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is trying to push for an early election, preferably later this year. However, the high command is unlikely to clear this.
The buzz is that the Siddaramiah hopes to hold elections in Karnataka in December, when Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will also go to polls. With Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Amit Shah likely to be tied down to their native state of Gujarat around that time, retaining control of which is a prestige issue for the saffron party, this will prevent them from canvassing in Karnataka.
The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Karnataka polls, BS Yeddyurappa too, said he suspects the party is trying to hold early elections to save face. “The Congress, especially Siddaramaiah’s eroding popularity due to various scandals and corrupt governance has made these leaders think of advancing elections with an intention to prevent the party’s complete rout in the coming elections,” he told Scroll.in. Yeddyurappa, however, claimed that the BJP would win at least 150 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka Assembly.
A Congress official, who did not wish to be identified, said the Congress high command will not allow the elections to be advanced and prefers Siddaramiah’s government completes its five-year term, which began on May 2013.
Retaining hold of Karnataka will be crucial for the Congress, as this is the only big state where it is in power, barring Punjab.
Through the internal reshuffle, in which prime posts have been given to dominant caste groups, the Congress has tried to get a head start over the BJP, whose state unit is beset with infighting. The state BJP unit has been divided into two factions, one led by state party chief BS Yeddyurappa and other by KS Easwarappa, the leader of Opposition in the legislative council.
The bye-polls in the Nanjangud and Gundlupet seats in April, both of which were retained by the Congress, have also made the party optimistic about their chances in the next polls. Party leaders in both Karnataka and Delhi were expecting to lose both constituencies that are dominated by the powerful Lingayat caste that has drifted away from the Congress.
Ahead of the bye-polls, Lingayats had been kept out of the purview of the reshuffle in the state unit, but the Congress victory in the both seats necessitated a change of plan. The party has now included members from the Vokkaliga community, known to support the Janata Dal (Secular) as well as Lingayats, who are largely BJP-backers.
The Congress high command is also now taking a keener interest in the Karnataka unit. The leaders in Delhi had so far left the unit to deal with itself – they had not intervened even with party veteran SM Krishna quit the party and many threatened to follow the suit, protesting Siddaramaiah’s alleged dictatorial nature and unilateral decision-making.
The high command’s increased involvement was seen in the decision to retain Dalit leader G Parmeshwara as Karnataka party chief post the reshuffle, though he was asked to step down from the post of state home minister. Siddaramiah had opposed the continuation of Parmeshwara, who has held the post of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief for six years, who he is not on good terms with. Siddaramiah wanted his aide SR Patil, former minister and Lingayat leader, to head the Karnataka Congress unit. The high command though moved intelligently on the issue and suggested Parmeshwara would continue in his post for another three years and not change the top leadership ahead of the Assembly elections. They placated Siddaramiah by assuring the party that he would lead the Congress in the upcoming polls.
“First, we do not want to take a chance of displacing a Dalit with a Lingayat, as this will mean loss of Dalits’ support who traditionally back the Congress and constitute more than 22% of the state population,” said a senior Congress leader from Delhi, who did not wish to be identified. “Secondly, the high command does not want to bring in an alleged puppet of Siddaramaiah who has already proved a hard nut to crack for the party with his autocratic style of functioning.”
However, the party cannot afford to alienate other dominant castes, especially the Lingayats, as the BJP has announced Lingayat strongman BS Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate for the polls. Thus, various posts were created to accommodate Lingayat and Vokkaliga leaders. Lingayat leader and Siddaramiah’s pick was given the newly created post of working president, while a campaign committee post was created for Vokkaliga leader DK Shivakumar. Satish Jarkhiholi, an OBC leader was appointed.