Karnataka: Why even in such a resounding win, there are signs of worry for Congress

Will the power struggle between two state leaders, DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah for the CM chair, set the stage for ego clashes, caste rivalries and dissidence for the next five years?

Karnataka-Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar
Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar

Imagine if the BJP had won Karnataka. We would have been reminded every day, day after day, through sights and sounds and through whatever other sensory perceptions there may be, that Narendra Modi has conquered Karnataka, decimated Rahul Gandhi and Co., and has set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

In his next public speech, Modi may have even taunted Rahul Gandhi to go on a ‘Peeche Modo Yatra’. The liberals would have shuttered themselves to the cacophony, believing it’s directed at them, while the Congress would have gone into introspection, the party’s pet term for inertia.

But it turns out that Kannadigas denied BJP that opportunity, of spending their unlimited resources on a chest-thumping show they are masters at, and saved several tonnes of banners, buntings and cut-outs that our poor pourakarmikas would have had to sweep into landfills.

Muted celebrations

There has been little noise from the Congress soon after victory, and thankfully so. Maybe they don’t have that kind of resources. Maybe they are spent energy-wise. Or, maybe they have simply lost the habit of winning and celebrating.

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Worse, could it be that nobody in the party is celebrating their collective victory? Because there is this gnawing feeling that supporters of various leaders in the Congress are waiting to see what their respective leader will become — CM, deputy CM, minister or whatever — before they unpack their firecrackers.

And this feeling becomes clearer when you see the tussle for the Chief Minister’s post. Imagine, they are letting the defeated Basavaraj Bommai continue as caretaker for nearly a week, after having told voters in their campaign that the BJP should not be allowed to continue in power for a single day. Rhetoric, of course, but you get the drift?

The haze of personal aggrandisement

Logically, their victory should have come into effect immediately.  But there was no sign of a new Chief Minister till after the fifth day. All this when they had an absolute, convincing, single-handed triumph; and not one where their opposition herded away fence-sitting MLAs to beach resorts. This was a victory that could be a master class in how to defeat the BJP. This was a victory that could spell the cementing of a non-BJP coalition for Lok Sabha 2024.

And what does the Congress do?

While all non-BJP forces are celebrating for the Congress, the Congress began pulling itself down from within. Those in Karnataka who led it to victory lost sight of the purpose of the victory in the haze of personal aggrandisement.

All of a sudden, neither the State Congress President DK Shivakumar not former chief minister Siddaramaiah are Congress leaders. The former has transitioned into a Vokkaliga leader and Siddaramaiah into a Kuruba leader. The Lingayats (including caretaker Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai) are making it more difficult by reminding the Congress not to forget Lingayats. While these stronger castes are vociferous, a Dalit chief minister does not even seem to be a distant contender.

To Congress party’s credit, it should be acknowledged that it has no supreme leader whose diktat will end all internal democracy. However, an electorate that has gotten used to decisiveness (however foolhardy) rather than debate and discussion, cannot be kept waiting for long. Democracy is a cultivated taste. Right now, quick thinking is of essence.

Ego clashes, caste rivalries and dissidence?

In an ideal world, Siddaramaiah, given his experience and following, could have acknowledged Shivakumar’s work as KPCC president and conceded the chair. After all, Shivakumar organised the party at the ground level despite being hounded by the IT and ED time and again (and not to forget his imprisonment). Siddaramaiah is no doubt the tallest leader, but he’s already been at the helm for a whole term; he is now 75 and has much more to offer the Congress even if he is not the Chief Minister.

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That’s not the case for Shivakumar. The Kanakapura strongman is more of an on-the-ground commander who thrives in wartime. If not in the hot seat, he is likely to be forgotten till the next big crisis.

Shivakumar, too, could have conceded much earlier. He could have acknowledged Siddaramaiah’s importance in governance and bided his time. But then, caste has a curious way of providing more strength than absolute majority can.

The Congress leadership, too, could have stepped in much earlier to pick their choice —it’s clear that from the beginning, it was Siddaramaiah — and prevented the head-on collision between two state leaders.

What if this sets the tone — of ego clashes, caste rivalries and dissidence — for the next five years? If this is the first message a Modi-defeating political party might send out, the victory could well turn out to be Modi’s in the long run. Unless of course, the Congress, and especially Siddaramaiah, demonstrate in word and deed that they will take everyone along.

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

N Bhanutej is a freelance writer and teacher.