The huge gathering of party workers for Siddaramaiah’s 75th birthday, labelled ‘Amrith Mahotsav’, has positioned him as the unchallenged mass leader of Karnataka Congress ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. It made Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief DK Shivakumar (DKS) and Dalit leader G Parameshwara toe the line to face the elections.
Siddaramaiah, Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, strengthened his position by ensuring an impressive gathering of Congress workers at Davanagere, a Lingayat-Kuruba belt. The party’s Karnataka unit buried its numerous internal differences to present a united front at the Siddaramotsava on August 3, providing the cadres with much-needed clarity.
Karnataka Congress workers needed such a momentum to have any chance to halt the ‘Mission Dakshin’ of the BJP and the unity it showed under the leadership of Siddaramaiah sent a strong message to the BJP camp that might force it to re-look at its strategies.
Enthused party workers
The spark, incidentally, was provided by DKS when he started his speech with the slogan ‘Jai Siddaramaiah’. Lakhs of party workers gathered at the event ground cheered him by repeating ‘Jai Siddaramaiah’ and continued to do so for a few minutes. Only when Siddaramaiah made a signal to stop, the massive cheering crowd quietened down.
The gathering included mainly AHINDA (minorities, backward classes and dalits) and Lingayats among party workers who had come from all over Karnataka. Thousands of buses, cars and various other transport modes choked the Bengaluru-Pune national highway at the Davanagere bypass road for around 15 km.
There were party workers everywhere, flashing Siddaramaiah photos and cutouts. They all wanted their party to succeed and their desire was fulfilled when Siddaramaiah and DKS hugged each other. “Me and DK Shivakumar don’t have any differences and we are united,” said Siddaramaiah, enthusing the rank and file who have been a confused lot for the past few months owing to leadership issues in the party.
Thumbs-up from Rahul Gandhi
The leadership tussle between Siddaramaiah and DKS in the run-up to the 2023 poll was no secret. While Siddaramaiah’s followers were repeatedly giving statements that their leader would become the CM again, DKS, who comes from the strong Vokkaliga community, used to reiterate: “Vokkaligas have a chance this time”.
DKS had, in fact, expressed his unhappiness over Siddaramotsava quite frequently. However, the hug said a lot. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who had flown down to attend the celebration, appreciated the bonhomie in his speech. It showed unity between the leaders of the party, he said.
It was clear that Rahul had convinced the party leaders to gather at the programme and make it a Congress Utsav. And, he succeeded.
The cheers that Siddaramaiah got were not stage-managed but spontaneous and party leaders could easily realise it.
Senior leaders of the Congress, including former CM M Veerappa Moily, former Deputy CM G Parameshwar, Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council BK Hariprasad, Satish Jarkiholi, MB Patil, Dinesh Gundorao, Shamanuru Shivashankarappa, UT Khader and many others also supported Siddaramaiah’s leadership and this gave the crowd much clarity about the way ahead.
Shrewdness at work
According to a party insider, it was Siddaramaiah’s shrewdness that cleared his way to become a frontrunner for the CM post, should Congress make it next year. He successfully managed to unite all the leaders under one banner and also made his opponents come over and heap praise on his achievements.
It appears that Congress leaders have realised that only unity can give them a chance to be back in power and the issue of ‘who is the CM’ would arise only after the Congress wins.
The united face that the party presented would have surely made Rahul happy, considering the Congress has very few states under its rule.
Cold war with Parameshwara
Parameshwara, the Dalit leader and former KPCC chief who had played a part in bringing the Congress to power in 2013, had kept his distance from Siddaramaiah till recently.
The cold war between the two leaders had proved costly for the party as a portion of Dalit votes moved away from party resulting in losses in elections. Now, both the leaders came together and showed a united face at the event, where thousands of people from Dalit communities were also present.
A party worker said that it was good to see both the leaders come together to gain power again in the state.
An eye on Lingayats
The Lingayats have mostly kept away from the Congress since former Chief Minister Veerendra Patil was removed from power. The gulf widened after the issue of Lingayat religion came up during Siddaramaiah’s tenure.
However, the Congress still has a good number of Lingayat leaders, including MB Patil, Shamanuru Shivashankarappa, and Ishwar Khandre. Siddaramaiah, by holding his birthday bash at Davangere, sent a positive signal to the community as the place is a stronghold of Lingayats – as well as Kurubas – and also Shamanoor Shivashankarappa’s home turf.
Party workers were also enthused when Rahul Gandhi was blessed by the seer of the Lingayat sect, Shivamurthy Muruga Sharana of Muruga Mutt, a day before Siddaramotsava. Rahul tweeted: “It is an absolute honour to visit Sri Jagadguru Murugharajendra Vidyapeetha and receive the ‘Ishtalinga Deekshe’ from Dr Sri Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru. The teachings of Guru Basavanna are eternal and I am humbled to learn more about them from the Sharanaru of the Math.”
Party sources said that Rahul’s visit was at Siddaramaiah’s behest. This, they believe, would not only help the Congress in getting a percentage of Lingayat votes but has also helped Siddaramaiah in dousing the controversy he had created by raising the Lingayat-Veerashaiva issue when he was the CM.