Now Or Never For D K Shivakumar: Can The Congress Loyalist (Ever) Become Chief Minister?

Sharan Setty

Jul 04, 2024, 12:07 PM | Updated 12:07 PM IST

D K Shivakumar's ambitions for the chief minister's post have been well-known for a while now.
D K Shivakumar's ambitions for the chief minister's post have been well-known for a while now.
  • The ball is in his court; what will Shivakumar do?
  • In 2023, when the Congress party came back to power in Karnataka with a strong mandate, all but one man was teary-eyed — D K Shivakumar.

    Aspiring to become the chief minister of the state, Shivakumar did everything he could to let the Congress high command know how much this win meant to him.

    Despite flying to New Delhi and making his case before the Gandhis, Siddaramaiah was nominated as the chief minister of Karnataka.

    No one is privy to what arrangements, if any, took place during those meetings in New Delhi. Still, it is a known fact that All India Congress Committee president Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were involved in the decision-making process.

    Thereafter, Shivakumar had to shelve his ambitions for a later date and settle with what he was offered — the post of deputy chief minister and a few important portfolios, including Bengaluru development.

    Camp Politics

    Shivakumar assumed the presidency of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) in 2020 from Dinesh Gundu Rao.

    Within months, he rejigged the organisation and prepared the Congress team for the 2023 assembly election. He emerged victorious. The Congress won 135 seats in the 224-member state assembly, a victory bigger than in 2013 when Siddaramaiah became chief minister for the first time.

    Karnataka's politics has always operated in 'camps' — a term used to describe groups that huddle together to occupy positions of power. This is true in the case of almost all the major parties in the state, including the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)).

    As such, each camp is headed by an individual or a family that is backed by like-minded seers and businesspersons.

    The statement of support by the seer Kumara Chandrashekaranatha Swamiji of Vishwa Vokkaliga Mahasamastana Matha in Shivakumar's favour should, therefore, not come as a surprise. Religious institutions and associated individuals who command influence are often seen backing candidates of their caste and choice.

    But the main takeaway is that the demand from both the Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar camps for more deputy chief ministers to be appointed from various communities — Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SC/ST), minorities, and the Lingayats — does not seem to end.

    Senior Congress leaders who have been sidelined are beginning to feel the heat from their constituents, as members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) have not been receiving enough funds for development works, thanks to the freebies taking away a big chunk of the state's exchequer.

    On the one hand, Siddaramaiah is tasked with keeping the economy afloat; on the other, he needs to keep competition at bay as his rival camps are lobbying for their leaders to become ministers and deputy chief ministers.

    The impatient wait

    All said and done, in retrospect, the Congress has surpassed expectations in the recently concluded general election.

    While Shivakumar has promised to 'introspect' on the outcome, he will be happy after an internal survey, as sources close to Shivakumar told Swarajya earlier this summer — Congress would be happy with three or four Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka. They went as far as winning nine.

    But Shivakumar is understandably exasperated, as he has had to wait for years to even get close to realistically aiming for the chief minister's chair. Siddaramaiah has proven his mettle time and again, and with the backing of certain caste groups, he cannot easily beremoved or even challenged.

    Siddaramaiah was the Chief Minister of Karnataka from 2013 to 2018, making him the only person to have fully served his term in office after S Nijalingappa (1962-68) and D Devaraja Urs (1972-77).

    Inspired by the AHINDA politics espoused by Urs, Siddaramaiah has gone on to form his vote bank by galvanising support from minorities, backward classes, and Dalits.

    It would take a lot of strength to unseat Siddaramaiah at the moment, and Shivakumar knows he does not have enough support from his own loyalists to do so.

    But sitting this term out will be risky, as Karnataka is an anti-incumbency state, with people voting out ruling governments almost every time.

    In practical terms, this means that the next viable chance for Shivakumar will only come in 2033, should the BJP (and/or JD(S)) assume power in the 2028 assembly election.

    That is too much of a wait for anyone, especially Shivakumar, who has been patiently hoping for the top post for years, only to be eclipsed by Kharge or Siddaramaiah.

    Unlike Shivakumar, Siddaramaiah has a lot more friends across the aisle and is said to have a tacit understanding with opposition leaders like B S Yediyurappa, among others.

    Shivakumar has risen in politics by challenging the dominance of the Gowdas in the Old Mysore Region but has been successful only on a few occasions.

    With the resurrection of the JD(S) and D K Suresh's embarrassing ouster from Bangalore Rural, Shivakumar needs to first secure his own backyard before the JD(S) and BJP can make inroads.

    Moreover, Shivakumar has hinted at the possibility of contesting as a candidate in the upcoming by-poll in Channapatna — a constituency vacated by H D Kumaraswamy after he was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) from Mandya.

    If this does happen and Shivakumar is not able to come out of it successfully, then forget the chief ministership, even the AICC and his Congress competitors will hang him out to dry.

    The ball is in his court; what will Shivakumar do?

    Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.

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