The Southern Eclipse

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THE PIQUANT upshot is for the Congress. The tussle and positioning for the chief minister’s post has already begun in the party, months before the first vote is to be cast. In a television programme in Bengaluru in 2008, political pundits had famously counted 23 prospective chief ministers in the Congress ranks. This time, there seems to be a minimum of five serious contenders.

Siddaramaiah is a former finance minister and currently the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly. A member of the Kuruba community (traditional shepherds), he is perhaps the last remaining mass leader in the party. However, Siddaramaiah joined the Congress less than 10 years ago, following his split with Deve Gowda and the JD(S). Many in the Congress still consider him a newcomer and an outsider.

Till the late summer of 2012, Siddaramaiah seemed the Congress front-runner and appeared to have only G Parameshwara, the Dalit president of the state Congress unit, as a contender. In October, the octogenarian Krishna stepped down as India’s foreign minister and, despite initial denials, decided to make a comeback in state politics. His return to Karnataka has perturbed Siddaramaiah and Parameshwara and the two have closed ranks, a party source said.

The goal is to prevent Krishna getting a dominant say in ticket distribution. The Bangalore metropolitan area (32 seats) and Old Mysore (73 seats) make up some 45 percent of the state Assembly (224 seats). This is Krishna country, seat of his urban and Vokkaliga base. If he can distribute tickets to his supporters here, he will have a headstart in any possible post-election contest for chief minister.

There are two other names doing the rounds in New Delhi. Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge and Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises KH Muniyappa are both Dalits and would fancy their chances. Even so, as one senior party functionary in the capital put it, “Only Krishna has the stature and will be trusted by Sonia Gandhi to be the chief minister of a major state like Karnataka.” At least Siddaramaiah will not agree.

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Contributing Editor

Ashok Malik has been a journalist for 20 years and is contributing editor at Tehelka. He focuses on Indian domestic politics, foreign/trade policy, and their increasing interplay. In 2011, Ashok co-authored a paper: India’s New World: Civil Society in the Making of Foreign Policy, published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney. It looked at the influence of Indian business, news media and overseas communities on the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. In 2012, Ashok’s book, India: Spirit of Enterprise (Roli Books) was published. It encapsulates the story of the growth of India’s leading private sector industries since 1991, and their role in the Indian economy.