Kharge stamps his authority with Delhi meet of Karnataka ministers
Wednesday’s meeting of Karnataka ministers with the Congress high command in Delhi is being seen as the latter’s way of sending a message that it is in full control of the newly elected state government.
All 34 ministers of the Karnataka Cabinet, including Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy CM DK Shivakumar, attended the August 2 meeting in Delhi, presided over by AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge and former president Rahul Gandhi.
In the meeting, all ministers were reportedly told to work for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls by ensuring a corruption-free administration and reaching out to MLAs by responding to their queries.
The official reason stated for the meeting was preparation for the upcoming general election, but party circles wondered why all ministers had to be called to Delhi for that. They believe Kharge, especially, wanted to send an indirect message to the Karnataka government and all other Congress government and units in the different states.
A senior Congress MLA and former minister who hails from North Karnataka pointed out that the party high command has been accused of being very weak in recent years, especially after it lost power in Delhi.
But Kharge, who started off the Congress presidency on a weak note, has been slowly warming to the role. Especially after the Karnataka Assembly polls and the Opposition unity meetings, he is gradually being recognised as a force to reckon with. He has good administrative skills and is known for smooth operations. So now, he may be willing to send a strong message to Karnataka Congress and other party units, the leader said.
Second, Siddaramaiah, during his previous tenure as Karnataka chief minister, had become too strong for the party’s liking, especially after the Congress bagged very few MP seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But this time, the AICC president does not want to look weak against the powerful Karnataka leader, which might have led to the Delhi meeting, he said.
A stronger Kharge
A Karnataka leader in Delhi concurred with the MLA. He told The Federal that Kharge is now strong enough to take indirect control over the Congress government and not allow a “one-man show” in Karnataka, which Siddaramaiah 0.1 government effectively was from 2013 to 2018.
This time, Kharge wants to show that the high command is not weak. “During the previous government, Siddaramaiah never cared about the Delhi high command. But this time, Kharge wants him to care. Siddaramaiah was the unopposed leader then, but now, DK Shivakumar is an equal contender and an equal voice in the state Cabinet. Kharge has grabbed the chance,” he said.
Kharge, who is from the state and knows every trick of Karnataka politics, made sure to have the meeting in Delhi. According to sources, it was originally scheduled to be held in Bengaluru around the Opposition unity meeting on July 18. However, former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy’s demise postponed the meeting. Then, it kept getting delayed over Manipur and other issues, the source said.
“Initially, it was indeed meant to be about poll preparations. And there was a suggestion to not have the meeting in Delhi, as it could send a negative message among political circles. But the letter shot off by senior leaders, including BR Patil and Basavaraj Rayareddy, complaining against some ministers, prompted the high command to call the meeting in Delhi,” he added.
“It was kind of having a Karnataka Cabinet meeting in Delhi — but with a few senior leaders and MLAs, and headed by Kharge and Rahul Gandhi. In the meeting, importance was given to the MLAs’ letters to the chief minister, allegations made by MLAs about not being given grants for various projects in their constituencies, and some corruption allegations made by a few ministers. Both Kharge and Gandhi asked the ministers not to give any scope for such issues to arise,” the leader, who attended the meeting, told The Federal.
Two birds with one stone
He added that Kharge and Gandhi also asked the state leaders and ministers to work towards ensuring that Congress MP candidates win in their respective constituencies. “Thus, Kharge’s strategy of killing two birds with one stone worked out well. He sent a signal to the state Congress that he is watching everything that’s happening in Karnataka and to other Congress units that the party high command is not weak,” the leader said.
Another leader claimed there will be two power centres after this meeting — namely, Siddaramaiah and Kharge. Unhappy leaders will rally behind either of the two, creating problems in future, he believes. “No Delhi leader can take control of a leader like Siddaramaiah, and this will spark trouble for the party. Old times are gone, when the party high command decided everything,” he felt.
Former CM and BJP leader Basavaraj Bommai was quick to grab the chance to take a jibe at Siddaramaiah. In a tweet, he suggested that Siddaramaiah has become weaker this time. “There is a huge difference between Siddaramaiah 0.1 government and Siddaramaiah 0.2 government. There is no instance of the state Cabinet going to Delhi to meet in the party office. Siddaramaiah is accepting whatever the Delhi leaders say this time, and that was not his former character,” he tweeted.