Congress’ Rout In Four States Weakens The High Command It Strengthens Siddaramaiah
Politics is a strange art; it is also paradoxical sometimes. An electoral defeat usually makes the party weak. But if the party follows high command culture, then the electoral drubbing makes its chief ministers strong in spite of the losses in the polls. Take for instance Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. He looks confidence personified; there is a perceptible and distinct change in his body language after the rout of the Congress party in elections in four of the five states—Rajasthan, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Mizoram, of course, came as a consolation prize to the country’s oldest party. Die-hard Congressmen and Siddaramaiah’s opponents in the Congress state unit admit, grudgingly, that it would be difficult to remove the Chief Minister; worse, it would also be difficult to bring pressure on him. “Whenever high command becomes weak, chief ministers tend to become regional satraps,” is the old but time-tested saying in the grand old party of India. A weak high command makes the Chief Minister strong, ipso facto.
Siddaramaiah, an old warhorse of the Janata Parivar and Kuruba strongman, took over as Chief Minister six months ago, after the Congress defeated the BJP government in May this year. That his election as leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP), enabling him to become the Chief Minister, was marked by hiccups and uncertainties needs no mention. Siddaramaiah continued to remain vulnerable or at least behaved as if he was sitting on tenterhooks for most of the months after taking charge as Chief Minister.
His budget, which has a heavy and distinct slant in favour of AHINDA—Minorities, BCs and Dalits—was seen as an attempt on the part of this leader of backward classes to carve a niche for himself in state politics as well as emerge as a leader on his own right, should a situation arise in future. This sense of insecurity always worked in the back of his mind, the fact which was admitted by his close confidantes but half-heartedly denied by Siddaramaiah.
However, December 8 brought a sea change in the situation for Siddaramaiah. As the EVMs at thousands of booths across the significant portions of cow belt revealed the “electoral massacre” of the Congress, Siddaramaiah realised that he has become stronger, unwittingly, of course. Even as the downcast Congress leaders made feeble attempts to enthuse the party cadres by saying that the defeat was only temporary, few believed them. The Kuruba strongman had a mischievous smile on his face, though he too made efforts to rub off the defeat as temporary based on local issues.
“The results of four states will not have any bearing on the national scenario,” Siddaramaiah opined. But there was no courage of conviction in his tone, at best it looked like consoling himself, as his party leaders in 10 Janpath tried to do.
The immediate biggest advantage for Siddaramaiah following the defeat of the Congress and subsequent weakening of the high command is that there would be no pressure on him to expand the ministry, and that too, induct those who are allegedly tainted like DK Shivakumar and Ramesh Kumar, the two most vocal and ardent ministerial aspirants. Shivakumar has been accused of allegedly involved in illegal mining scandal and Ramesh Kumar is accused of allegedly involved in encroachment of government land. Both Kumars, however, have vehemently denied of any wrong doing. “Anybody can make accusations or level allegations. But has anything been proved?,” Shivakumar asked.
SR Hiremath, who has been spearheading a struggle against corruption—illegal mining—has targeted Shivakumar. He has, in fact, petitioned to Governor HR Bharadwaj along with certain documents. It may be recalled that Hiremath’s sustained campaign resulted in the exit of Santosh Lad from the ministry—the first head to roll from the Congress government on the charges of illegal mining. Hiremath carried a campaign against Lad, who was minister for information in Siddaramaiah cabinet, till he tendered his resignation.
Having been wary of the charges of corruption and alleged involvement in illegal mining, Siddaramaiah has been treading very cautiously on the issue of inducting Shivakumar into the cabinet. Ramesh Kumar’s case is more or less similar, though he is not involved in illegal mining. The charge against him is that he is alleged to have been involved in encroachment of government land in his home constituency, Srinivasapur in Kolar district.
Ramesh Kumar has his own explanation, which sounds logical. “There has been no proper survey of the land that is under dispute. The issue is in grey area. The matter can be debated either way. Till finality comes after a proper survey, it is wrong to say that I have encroached the land. I am appalled by the audacity of some people in making a big issue out of a non-issue,” he said.
What makes Siddaramaiah’s case strong—not to take these allegedly tainted leaders into the cabinet—is that when he was the Leader of the Opposition, he (Siddaramaiah) had gone hammer and tongs against the then Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and demanded his resignation day in and day out, when charges of corruption erupted one by one. Even as for Yeddyurappa mere allegations were not sufficient for him to quit, Siddaramaiah was unrelenting. Now, the same logic the Kuruba strongman is applying not to induct Shivakumar and Ramesh Kumar—there are allegations so I cannot take you.
Siddaramaiah’s confidante ministers told Uday India that the Chief Minister has told the same to the high command during his recent visit to Delhi that inducting leaders who are facing charges would weaken the party’s morally upright stance taken by Vice President Rahul Gandhi on the issue of corruption. It is a different issue that the Congress-led UPA government has trashed the report of the enquiry commission that probed the Adarsh housing society scam but for the time being, Rahul Gandhi is ‘making all the right noises’ against corruption, which, according to insiders, was only ‘tactical’ and not with any courage of conviction.
Siddaramaiah has got the much-needed reprieve from his detractors but this cannot remain for long. He has to deliver in the Lok Sabha elections in terms of maximum number of seats from among 28. As of now, Congress has nine seats and BJP 18. His detractors have decided to bide time, till the Lok Sabha elections and in the event of Congress doing badly, then the knives will be opened. With the Lingayat strongman and former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa’s re-entry into the BJP becoming almost certain, a huge task is cut out for Siddaramaiah.
By SA Hemantha Kumar from Bengaluru