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Karnataka cliffhanger—the suspense continues

Siddaramaiah or Shivakumar, why is it a difficult choice for Congress?

Karnataka cliffhanger—the suspense continues

DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah. PTI Photo



Tribune Web Desk

Vibha Sharma

Chandigarh, May 17

It has been five days now and there is still no official word from the Congress over who will be its chief minister for Karnataka—the popular “mass leader” Siddaramaiah or its trusted “trouble shooter” DK Shivakumar—though rumours are rife that a choice has been made.

While there has been no official statement so far, the supporters of Siddaramaiah were spotted celebrating in Bengaluru. At the same time however, Shivakumar is said to have refused to negotiate, rejecting the peace offerings, including the offer of splitting the tenure, the post of Deputy CM and plum ministries, from the central leadership.

Why is it a difficult choice for Congress

Whether it is Siddaramaiah or Shivakumar, it is a difficult choice for the Congress party.

Apart from the caste equations, the 75-year-old Siddaramaiah is considered a popular mass leader not just within the party but also among the masses of the state. But Shivakumar too is also a popular leader who also enjoys the reputation of being a good strategist and the go-to man for his party.

A fact of the matter also is that a political party runs on hard cash and resources and there is perhaps no better person to ensure that for his party than Shivakumar, its trouble shooter for all seasons, say political observers.

Shivakumar is someone who helped Congress manoeuvre through some of its most difficult phases and circumstances, sticking by it in good as well as bad times.

Unlike Siddaramaiah. Sivakumar has been with the Congress most of his political life.

In these elections, Shivakumar made no bones that he was expecting to be rewarded from the party for his loyalty.

It is a hard choice for the Congress leadership, facing a similar situation in Rajasthan courtesy chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his bête noire Sachin Pilot.

Quite certainly it would not like to repeat a similar embarrassment in Karnataka which it won with equal efforts from both Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, say observers.

However, there are reasons why the Congress may have to make the difficult choice basedon ground reality, one of which may be the pending cases of alleged corruption and money laundering against Shivakumar.

Troubleshooter Shivakumar

Beginning his political career in early 1980s as a student leader, Shivakumar became a member of the Karnataka Assembly multiple times.

In 2002, he helped Congress’ Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh tide over a difficult ‘no-confidence motion’, devising a strategy that became famous as “resort politics” used by parties, including the BJP, to manage MLAs.

Shivakumar hosted the Maharashtra MLAs in a resort until the date of vote, thereby saving the Congress’ government.

Using the same strategy in 2017, he helped Sonia Gandhi’s right hand man Ahmed Patel get the Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat despite best efforts by BJP’s powerful leader Amit Shah. He moved Gujarat Congress MLAs to Bengaluru before the elections.

He was also credited for playing a critical role in the formation of the coalition government Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) in 2018.

A close confidante of the who’s who of the Congress—Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi—Shivakumar is said to be among the richest politicians in India.

His brother DK Suresh is Congress’ lone representative in the Lok Sabha from Karnataka.

In these elections, Shivakumar openly declared his ambition of becoming the CM and was also considered a strong contender by analysts.Digging in heels, he is said to have told Congress' negotiators that Siddaramaiah held personal interests above that of Congress whereashe always stood by theparty.

Apparently Sonia Gandhi, while trying to convince him, told him that his “loyalty will not go unrewarded”, according to reports.

Why Congress may opt for Siddhu

Then why will the senior Congress leadership prefer Siddaramaiah over their trusted loyalist for decades.

The fact is Siddaramaiah brings many positives to the Congress' table ahead of the general elections next year with mass appealextending across communities, including OBC, SCs, and Muslims.

While as an ‘Ahinda’ leader, he enjoys an image of social justice,Siddaramaiah also brings to the table a clean image.

He faces no corruption charges unlike Shivakumar who has several cases, including of holding disproportionate assets, against him and hasalso spent time in jail.

In other words what may go against Shivakumar becoming the CM are the multiple cases against him.

He is being probed by CBI, ED and Income Tax department and it would be very embarrassing for Congress if central agencies chose to pursue these cases after he takes over as the CM.

He was arrested in September 2019 after questioning for several hours. The ED claims to have discovered in his accounts unaccounted money worth around Rs 200 crore and documents pertaining to ‘benami’ properties worth more than Rs 800 crore.

When confronted with the allegations, Shivakumar was “non-cooperative”, according to reports. However, investigating agencies claim to have recorded statements of witnesses in connection with the cases.

Shivakumar is also under probe in the National Herald case in which Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi have also been questioned.

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The Tribune Web Desk brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune Wed Desk for not just breaking news stories but wide-ranging coverage of events.

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