The recent announcement of his impending resignation from the Congress by senior leader C M Ibrahim has once again set tongues wagging about a storm brewing in the Karnataka Congress due to a clash of ideas and personalities involving its two top leaders — state party president D K Shivakumar and Leader of the Opposition and ex-chief minister Siddaramaiah.
Ibrahim’s resignation threat has come at a time when the tussle between Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah had seemed to have settled down following the Congress’s good showing in Assembly bypolls and Council elections last year and a united show of strength displayed during the party’s protest march for implementation of the Mekedatu drinking water project earlier this month.
Although his threat has more to do with Ibrahim’s thwarted personal ambition and lack of Muslim leaders’ standing in the Karnataka Congress, it has also underlined that the party’s leadership is playing a balancing act by pandering to the demands of both the Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah factions.
One of the things that Ibrahim seemed to suggest was that he had been let down by Siddaramaiah despite being his loyalist – that when it came to picking the leader of the party in the Legislative Council the latter did not bat for him, with the post going to B K Hariprasad, a former MP considered close to Shivakumar.
In a series of sarcastic comments, Ibrahim said Siddaramaiah had become an “orphan” in the Congress and so there was no one to speak for him. “Siddaramaiah has given me a gift. He has delivered it through the Congress party. I have accepted it happily,” he said. “Shivakumar and Hariprasad are a good team, they have the same mindset so the AICC (All India Congress Committee) seems to have made the appointment.”
Ibrahim was a minister in the H D Deve Gowda-led United Front government. He switched to the Congress from the Deve Gowda-headed Janata Dal (Secular) in 2008. Siddaramaiah had also been with the JD(S) earlier.
The AICC’s move to nominate Hariprasad as the Council’s Opposition leader came a day after it appointed a former minister M B Patil, a Siddaramaiah loyalist, as the chairman of the party campaign committee for the 2023 state Assembly elections.
It is an open secret in the Karnataka Congress that Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah do not see eye to eye and are rivals in the chief ministerial race if the party comes to power next year. The two leaders cannot be more different from each other, with Shivakumar dubbed a “capitalist to the core” and Siddaramaiah a “socialist”.
While both leaders are known to have a brash way of dealing with party colleagues, Siddaramaiah has found relatively more acceptability and loyalty among the Congress legislators. Shivakumar however earned more political capital in recent days by leading the Mekedatu protest march.
The Congress leadership’s call for sinking of differences and bringing the party back to power has resulted in the two leaders putting up a united front in recent days. Its good performance in recent urban local body elections and other polls earlier have also helped the party paper over internal rifts.
The simmering differences between Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah surfaced last October when two pro-Siddaramaiah party functionaries’ conversation was picked up by microphones ahead of a press conference. This private chat between a Congress media coordinator and a spokesperson dwelt on Shivakumar’s “shortcomings” as the party president and seemed to indicate their greater confidence in Siddaramaiah’s leadership.
While Shivakumar has attempted to inject new energy into the Karnataka Congress after becoming party chief in July 2020 amid the Covid first wave and lockdown, the bulk of 68 party MLAs are known to be more aligned with Siddaramaiah.
Shivakumar was appointed the state party chief months after being arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) over money laundering charges following an Income Tax (IT) investigation into his alleged tax evasion during 2017-18. He is one of the most wealthy legislators in Karnataka with assets close to Rs 850 crore declared ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls.
Since taking charge as the party president, Shivakumar has tried to get the party out of Siddaramaiah’s grasp by replacing several old functionaries with his own loyalists. On his part, Siddaramaiah has tried to maintain his control over the party unit by ensuring that Shivakumar does not have a unilateral run and is assisted by as many as four working presidents.
Many Congress MLAs believe that Siddaramaiah is a more versatile leader who does not carry the baggage of pending cases of corruption or other economic offences.
A Congress section, however, also feels that both the leaders have various shortcomings and would not be able to capitalise on the anti-incumbency factor against the incumbent BJP government and lead the party effectively in the 2023 polls.