Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar’s remark that he would love to see AICC chief M Mallikarjun Kharge as the chief minister after elections has set tongues wagging in the state knowing that Shivakumar is locked a contest for leadership with senior leader Siddaramiah.
The KPCC chief’s move is widely seen as an attempt by him to checkmate Siddaramaiah’s prospects by reigniting a debate on a Dalit chief minister and the old versus new within the party. Shivakumar has said he would “love” to work under Kharge if he becomes the chief minister as there were voices in the party that “injustice” has happened to the veteran leader in the past. But he insisted that the party’s decision will be final.
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“He (Kharge) is our senior leader and AICC president. He has not asked for it (CM post). The Congress should come to power is his only desire. He is a senior leader and there are some voices that say that injustice has happened to him in the past,” Shivakumar said.
Speaking to reporters in Sringeri on Monday, he said: “We should abide by what the party says. Kharge is at the helm of the party. Siddaramaiah and others too will abide by the party. The party is important.”
“He is 20 years senior to me… I am committed to his wish,” Shivakumar added. Later, while defending his statement, he said: “He (Kharge) is a senior, he is our AICC president, if we don’t support him and his leadership, are we human? The party coming to power is important, not us.”
Both Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah are nursing chief ministerial ambitions in the event of the Congress dislodging the BJP in assembly elections and taking power.
Siddaramaiah on Sunday said that everyone will abide by the decision of the high command. According to party sources, Kharge, now 80, lost out in the race to become the chief minister of Karnataka thrice — in 1999 to SM Krishna, in 2004 to N Dharam Singh and in 2013 to Siddaramaiah.
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Some party functionaries believe the possibility of Kharge returning to state politics are limited, given the responsibilities he holds. A party leader said: “He as AICC president has a bigger role to play in and ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.”
The speculation regarding Kharge has again triggered a debate in the Congress over a “Dalit CM”, with two senior leaders from the community (G Parameshwara and KH Muniyappa) also in the election fray. Karnataka has never had a Dalit chief minister.
Parameshwara recently said he was among the chief ministerial aspirants in the event of the party coming to power.
Parameshwara was the deputy chief minister during Congress-JD(S) coalition government led by HD Kumaraswamy. He was also the longest-serving KPCC chief (eight years). Muniyappa is a seven-time MP from Kolar.
(With Agency inputs)