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Congress High Command Ties Siddaramaiah’s Hands

Updated: August 3, 2013 3:56 pm

It displays its traditional typical mindset of preventing regional satraps from becoming powerful


Is Siddaramaiah a lame-duck Chief Minister of the recently-elected Congress government in Karnataka? This question begged to be asked, going by the recent developments in the party. It is rather something strange that even before the government completed its 100 days and a few days before the presentation of the budget (July 12), the Congress high command with its over-bearing and dominating attitude has sought to rein in its
chief minister.

During his maiden visit to Karnataka after having been appointed its in-charge, AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh announced that a co-ordination panel would be constituted that would oversee and monitor the relationship between the party and the government. There was nothing wrong per se, in this seemingly innocuous statement. But he did not stop at that and went a step forward, which acts as a hindrance to the chief minister’s functioning as well as affects the self-respect of a leader elected by the people. Singh said, “Henceforth, all major announcements to be made by the chief minister will have to be consulted and taken prior approval by the co-ordination panel.”

It only means that Siddaramaiah, a man with tremendous self-respect, which borders on ego, will have to wait for the co-ordination committee to give its nod for all that he has to announce and implement, which are in the interest of the people. “Day-to-day governance affects by this kind of system. Indecision and procrastination will become order of the day leading to frustration. Instead of a single-man chief minister-driven governance aimed at quick decisions, this will lead to stagnancy,” a top bureaucrat told Uday India, on the conditions of anonymity.

But KPCC chief Dr G. Parameshwar begs to differ. He said, “The government has to implement the policies and programmes of the party which, in turn, has promised to the people during the elections. Decisions pertaining to these promises and policies need to be taken in consultation with the bigwigs. There is nothing wrong in constituting the co-ordination panel.”

But the party insiders as well as supporters of Siddaramaiah maintain that the co-ordination panel route was the suggestion of Parameshwar to show the Kuruba strong-man his place and prevent him from taking decisions arbitrarily. “This is the typical Congress high command mindset that would not allow any regional satrap to grow and become strong,” a minister confidante of Siddaramaiah said.

Parameshwar, however, stoutly denies this and asserted, “The idea is to ensure that the government functions in the spirit of collective responsibility and not to tie anybody’s hands. Every one of us are accountable to the people through the party. Individualism has no role to play in a democracy.” He, however, hastened to add that his comments are not directed at any body.

That all is not well within the Congress party and the government as well as between the leaders could be made out from the fact that Parameshwar chose to write a two-page letter to the chief minister about the need and imperativeness to consult the party before taking decisions.

What is rather strange is the fact that KPCC chief chose to release
the letter to the media. This weird idea—of releasing the letter to the media instead of talking over across the table within the four walls—came a day after Siddaramaiah denied of having received any letter from
Dr Parameshwar.

This unsavoury episode, which could have been avoided, brought to the fore the hard fact and a harsh reality that all is not well between the two chiefs that of the party and that of the government; a sure recipe for impending major trouble.

The Congress high command justifies its decision to constitute a co-ordination panel to oversee the functioning of the government on the ground that Siddaramaiah’s earlier two major announcements had caused acute embarrassment to the party. The first is about providing rice at Re 1 a kg from July 1 which has not yet come to be implemented. The second announcement is about providing cheap liquor by opening wine shops in rural places, which has been criticised by the cross-section of society, including seers of various mutts.

The rice scheme demands a whopping Rs 4300 crore. It was a one-man cabinet decision as it was announced by Siddaramaiah immediately after he was sworn in. The local Congress leaders as well as in the high command were taken aback by this ‘arbitrary’ decision. “I have only announced what has been mentioned in the manifesto. There is nothing wrong in this,” Siddaramaiah asserted.

But the “aboriginal Congress leaders”—who are known for taking their own sweet time to take decisions—were shocked by what they chose to describe as an “arbitrary and unilateral” decision of Siddaramaiah.

A senior Congress leader, who has the eyes, ears and mind of the high command, explained: “It is true that we have said (rice scheme) in the election manifesto but such a major decision ought to be taken in consultation with the party. Moreover, the chief minister has to look into the financial position, before making the announcement. It ought to have been the decision of the full-fledged cabinet, though in a parliamentary democracy the chief minister can function as one-man cabinet. Now, the scheme has not yet been implemented, the party has to bear the brunt.”

But one has to understand Siddaramaiah’s political and electoral compulsions in taking such decisions which are aimed at consolidating the votes of the SC/ST, BC and minorities. He has to prove to be a leader of reckoning who can make the party win in the Lok Sabha elections, which are hardly a few months away. “No leader can be effective if hands are tied and asked to function in an atmosphere of suffocation,” a minister and a close supporter of Siddaramaiah rued.

When boiled down to basics, the entire episode makes it obvious that a cold war has already started between the ‘aboriginals’ and ‘migrants’ in the Congress party. Siddaramaiah, who was one among the five strong pillars and mainstay of the Janata Pariwar for over three decades, is still considered a new entrant in the Congress, though he joined the country’s oldest party in 2005 and had functioned as the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.

The tone and content of the budget, which Siddaramaiah presents in the Assembly on July 12 and the Congress party’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections slated to be held either in November 2013 or March 2014 would decide Siddaramaiah’s fate. Till then it is anybody’s guess.

By S A Hemantha Kumar from Bengaluru

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