Battle for Karnataka: Congress' biggest challenges lie within, not in BJP

Aditi Phadnis
If there is one party that can be called an expert at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, it is the Congress. Talking of Karnataka, the story of the state government and party here is actually one of differences between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy (and party chief for a long time) G Parameshwar.


The two leaders have not seen eye to eye for a long time – since much before the party came to power in May 2013. In a way, it was the Congress’ considerable majority that led to the disagreements being made public. Siddaramaiah upstaged Parameshwar to become chief minister – after the latter lost his own seat from the Koratgere Assembly constituency in what appeared to be a Congress wave, and earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first party chief in 50 years to lose his own seat. This was after Rahul Gandhi campaigned extensively in the district.


Like past state party presidents like S M Krishna and Dharam Singh had gone on to become CMs, Parameshwar thought he could lay a legitimate claim to that office. Siddaramaiah could see the writing on the wall: Parameshwar’s supporters claimed it was Siddaramaiah who engineered the defeat by telling his own Kuruba community voters to vote en bloc for the rival JD(S) candidate rather than party colleague Parameshwar.


The rift between the two deepened when Siddaramaiah turned down the demand for making Parameshwar deputy chief minister or even minister in his Cabinet. The high command had to intervene to make Parameshwar deputy chief minister – though no one seems to know what a deputy chief minister’s powers are.


As Siddaramaiah is considered a newcomer in the ruling Congress, having joined only in 2005 after revolting against JD(S) supremo H D Deve Gowda, many old or senior Congressmen were already cut-up that their claims for the top (CM’s) post were ignored. Conscious that he was swimming in a sea of sharks, Siddaramaiah tried to swiftly consolidate his position: He unilaterally announced the Annabhagya (Re 1 per kg rice scheme to BPL families), which cost Rs 4,300 crore annually to the state exchequer, wrote off loans and additional subsidy to milk producers hours after he took oath as CM. He cut Parameshwar and other party leaders out of the deal, though all these promises were in the party’s 2013 manifesto.


Siddaramaiah not only favoured his ex-JD(S) loyalists like Mahadevappa, Srinivas Prasad & K J George with plum posts, but also ignored many legislators whom Parameshwar recommended for induction into the Cabinet. His position was strengthened when minister Srinivas Prasad switched to the BJP just before a bypoll, and the BJP re-fielded him as its candidate but he lost the election. The Nanjangud and Gundlupet byelections, both won by the Congress, proved that Siddaramaiah, not Parameshwar, was the king.


Finally, the Congress top leadership acted to end the skirmish and Parameshwar was nominated and elected to the Upper House or state legislative council.


Though Parameshwar is a dalit, several Vokkaliga and Lingayat MLAs and MLCs seized on him to voice their complaints about the CM’s style of functioning. He reportedly encouraged them to voice their complaints in Delhi. It was under all this pressure that Parameshwar was inducted into the government.


What happens now? If the list of candidates, to be announced in the next few days, is delayed, we will know Chapter II of the book of skirmishes in the Congress in Karnataka is going to be revealed.

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