Congress MLAs keep debate over next CM alive in Karnataka

The statement war in the Karnataka unit of the Congress over who should become the next CM if the Congress came to power continued on Wednesday too leaving the party state unit president DK Shivakumar upset, while ex-CM Siddaramaiah maintained silence.

The legislature party leader (Siddaramaiah) will deal with MLAs issuing statements, Shivakumar said, expressing unhappiness over the continued defiance of the gag orders by the party’s lawmakers.

If he (Siddaramaiah) does not (act), then the party high command will step in, he told reporters after returning from Delhi where he met Rahul Gandhi, and briefed him about the political developments in Karnataka.

The BJP Karnataka unit took a dig at the Congress in a series of tweets saying its leaders were fighting for a CM’s position that has been taken over. The ruling party took potshots at Siddaramaiah wondering if there was no infighting in the Congress (as he claimed), then why Shivakumar met Gandhi in Delhi, and why Siddaramaiah himself was seeking appointment with Gandhi now.

After MLAs BZ Zameer Ahmad Khan and Raghavendra Hitnal pitched for Siddaramaiah as the Congress’s CM face in the 2023 assembly polls, their colleagues Akhanda Sreenivasa Murthy and S Ramappa also supported the former chief minister for another term. Murthy suggested on Wednesday that the Congress would win 120-150 seats in the 224-member Karnataka Assembly only if it fought the next assembly polls under Siddaramaiah’s leadership.

Shivakumar, the Pulakeshinagar MLA said, should continue as KPCC president, and should not show any haste to become CM as he still has a long political career ahead. So the party high command should announce Siddaramaiah as the party’s CM candidate, he said.

Shivakumar hit back at Murthy, saying he was not showing any haste to become the CM, and his only goal now was to defeat the BJP and install a Congress regime. His younger brother and MP DK Suresh said he will raise the issue of indiscipline in the party’s state unit at the party forum.

Original Congress leaders, Suresh said, would not make public comments on the CM issue and would instead stick to the party discipline. It was those who have come from other parties were defying party discipline, he said, and added, and the Congress high command will deal with those creating the confusion. Suresh represents Bengaluru Rural in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress, which trailed the BJP in the 2018 assembly polls that left no party with a majority, has been upbeat about winning the next election as the ruling BJP finds itself on the defensive due to constant attack by its own leaders.

The Congress chose Shivakumar (59) for the state party chief’s position last year, recognising his record for pulling off victories in tough poll battles. The eight-time MLA has been known for delivering results in the tasks assigned to him. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, for instance, his brother DK Suresh emerged as the sole winner from the Congress.

Coming from the powerful Vokkaliga community, combined with financial muscle power, Shivakumar’s ambition to become chief minister is no secret. To cement his position as a pan-Karnataka leader, he has been touring the state and organising anti-BJP protests ever since he took over. He is also preparing the ground for a smooth transition from Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president to chief ministership if the Congress were to secure a majority.

But Siddaramaiah (72), who seemed tired of politics after the defeat in the 2018 assembly polls in Mysuru, has bounced back, making sharp statements against the BJP regime. He is aiming for another term, egged on by his staunch followers, according to Congress insiders. He will be 74 during the next assembly polls, not too old to take another shot at power.

Just as factions have emerged within the BJP, the Congress too is broadly split into groups loyal to Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar. Then there are, of course, neutral leaders loyal only to the party high command.

Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba by birth, but he has always projected himself as representing the interests of Ahinda (acronym in Kannada for minorities, backward classes and Dalits).

The former CM came into the Congress from the JD(S) in the mid-1990s, and several others migrated to the Congress later. Sections of MLAs, in the Congress as well as in the BJP, have their loyalties pledged to Siddaramaiah. While MLAs in the Congress, such as Zameer Ahmad Khan and others talk about it in public, a few in the BJP too have kept their relationship with Siddaramaiah warm and may hop to the Congress before the assembly polls.

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