Even as the Congress is treading with caution to resolve the leadership issue between DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah in Karnataka, the process to find an amicable solution is gradually turning out to be a headache for the grand old party as different caste groups are now staking claim to the chief minister’s post.
Representing the influential Lingayat community, the All India Veershaiva Mahasabha has made a bid for the top post on the ground that 34 of the newly elected Congress MLAs are Lingayats. The swing of the Lingayat vote, once a key support base of the BJP, has been identified as a key factor in the Congress triumph this time.
The Dalit community too has made a claim. Supporters of veteran Congress leader G Parameshwara held a demonstration, demanding that the Dalit leader be chosen for the top post.
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Lingayats write to Kharge
The All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha has shot off a letter to Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, stating that the Congress had fielded 46 candidates from the community and 34 of them emerged victorious. The outfit has key Lingayat leaders among its members. Its president is nonagenarian Shamanuru Shivashankarappa, Karnataka’s oldest MLA who won from Davangere South this time.
“We wish to bring to your kind notice that our community has played a major role in electing other smaller communities in other 50 constituencies. This shows that the traditional voters of the BJP has shifted its loyalty to Congress party, thereby supporting the Congress party to win 134 constituencies in the state,” the letter adds.
The Lingayats account for 17% of Karnataka’s population and can potentially swing outcomes in nearly 100 seats. It is the community’s electoral significance that saw all parties vie for its support and promote Lingayat leaders in the run-up to the polls. The organisation has further suggested that it is important that the Congress retains the support of the community for the general election due next year.
Claim on cabinet berths too
The organisation has also requested the Congress chief to ensure a number of cabinet berths for the community “which is proportionate to the number of MLAs of our community”.
The demand for the chief minister’s post, however, seems more like a pressure building tactic as the two tallest Congress leaders in Karnataka are in running for the job and no third name has come up in discussions so far.
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Once a key support base of the BJP, the Lingayats backed the Congress this time, results in the seats dominated by the community have indicated. A key factor behind the Lingayat swing could be the removal of BS Yediyurappa, BJP veteran and tallest Lingayat leader in Karnataka, as chief minister over corruption charges.
While the BJP replaced him with Basavaraj Bommai, another Lingayat leader, the results indicate it did not help the party’s poll prospects. Even the last minute move to scrap 4% reservation to Muslims and its reallocation among Lingayats and Vokkaliga did not work in the BJP’s favour.
Cong strategy led to dilemma
The Congress’ dilemma stems from the fact that the party avoided projecting a single leader as the face of its campaign in an apparent bid to taken on the formidable BJP. It projected the trio of Shivakumar, Siddaramaiah and Kharge as those leading its Karnataka push.
While Shivakumar belongs to the influential Vokkaliga community, which dominates southern Karnataka, Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba, a backward caste group that has sizeable presence in central and northern Karnataka. With the Dalit roots of its national president Kharge, Congress got a panel of leaders that appealed, in total, to about 70 per cent of Karnataka’s population.
While this benefited the Congress campaign immensely and paved the way for its victory, the competing claims for the top job are now proving to be a hurdle in its decision-making.
Muslims seek Deputy CM’s post
Meanwhile, in another challenge for the Congress high command, party legislators from the major communities are demanding deputy chief minister posts as they argue the party would not have secured such a huge majority without the support of their communities.
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Senior Veerashaiva-Lingayat, Muslim, and Dalit MLAs, besides smaller communities like Reddys are among those demanding deputy chief minister posts. While various MLAs are staking claim for the second highest post in the government, their respective religious and social organisations too are lobbying hard for them.
With 12% vote share and a decisive vote in about 90 seats, the Muslim community too is demanding a deputy CM post. KPCC working president Saleem Ahmed and former ministers Zameer Khan and UT Khader are the main contenders. “We had asked for 23 seats for our community and got 15 tickets. Of them nine won. We deserve a deputy CM post,” said Karnataka Wakf Board president Shafi Sadi.
Dalits are also seeking a deputy CM post, and former Union minister KH Muniyappa and former chief minister G Parameshwara have emerged contenders. OBCs want the post allotted to them if Shivakumar becomes the CM. Leader of the Opposition in the council, BK Hariprasad, is a strong contender.