Karnataka Chief Minister (CM) Siddaramaiah completed two tumultuous years in office last Saturday with a grand show of strength at Davangere, where, despite torrential rains, nearly one lakh people had gathered to celebrate his second anniversary as the cm. His rhetoric of a “BJP free Karnataka” drew a huge applause from the audience and sharp criticism from the Opposition. However, the message that he is very much in control of the situation was sent not just to the Opposition but also to the dissidents within the party.
The question many are asking is: Why is Siddaramaiah celebrating the completion of just two years in office? The political instability that Karnataka witnessed after the stepping down of BS Yeddyurappa seems to be never ending. Speculation has been rife that Siddaramaiah may be forced to step down by his own party members to pave the way for some old Congress leader.
The cm has, however, managed to ensure that he keeps his chair for the time being by projecting his corruption-free regime. “For the last two years I have been in power, there has been no corruption charge against any of my ministers. Compare this with the track record of the previous BJP government in the state. My work speaks of my commitment to the people,” Siddaramaiah told Tehelka.
The bigger question that remains is: Is his confidence misplaced? The political climate of the state is far from settled. On the one hand, there is stiff competition from an aggressive Opposition, comprising the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) and, on the other hand, there are problems caused by the warring lobbies within the party.
It appears that several senior Congress leaders are unhappy with his style of functioning. A senior party leader who refused to be named, told Tehelka, “Despite being an old Congressman, I cannot expect a key post as long as Siddaramaiah is in charge.” Even the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president G Parameshwar, whose supporters have been demanding that he be made Deputy cm,Opposilooks dejected. While Siddaramaiah is willing to make Parameshwar a minister, he does not want him as a Deputy CM. Parameshwar told Tehelka, “I am a chief ministerial candidate, how can I accept an ordinary portfolio? I have to answer my supporters and community leaders who have certain expectations from me.” This may be Parameshwar’s strongest outburst against Siddaramaiah. However, he quickly added, “I am a loyal Congressman and cannot express my displeasure publicly. I will wait for my turn.”
The list of disgruntled party members does not end here. Senior Cabinet colleagues such as HK Patil and RV Deshpande, who want a free hand in their respective departments, also have expressed their displeasure with the cm on several occasions.
This apart, energy minister DK Shivakumar’s supporters are also mobilising support for the Vokkaliga strongman. The Vokkaliga community feels that after the tenures of SM Krishna and HD Kumaraswamy, it has not been able to get a fair share in power.
Senior Vokkaliga leaders, who openly back Shivakumar, want him to don the mantle of the CM in case there is a change of guard. Though not staking claim openly, Shivakumar is busy building his support base in Delhi, as demonstrated by a breakfast meeting held with party MPs in the capital last week.
The highly controversial death of an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer DK Ravi has also pitted Siddaramaiah against the politically powerful Vokkaliga community. It has also propelled his bete noire HD Kumaraswamy to the centre stage of Karnataka politics.
Assessing Siddaramaiah’s situation, political analyst Arun Kumar said, “It is indeed tough if you are not from any of the two politically and financially powerful communities in the state— the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats. Siddaramaiah survived on a scattered Opposition but the coming together of two major community leaders in the BJP and the JD(S) will be a tough task to handle in the months to come.”