In the political drama that unfolded in Karnataka last month, former chief minister Siddaramaiah and many chief ministerial aspirants within the Congress were in the limelight. One person among the lot emerged not only as a troubleshooter but a key challenger to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in all possible ways.
Last month, Doddalahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar, popularly known as DKShi, went to have coffee with the rebel MLAs who quit their posts and went to a luxury hotel in Mumbai before the trust vote in the Karnataka Assembly. He stood outside the hotel, braving the rains, in a futile attempt to meet the MLAs. The Mumbai police sent DKShi away as the rebels complained that they were threatened by his presence.
Though he put up a strong fight to get back the rebels, he could not save the ruling government from collapsing. He felt betrayed by the rebels MLAs, particularly MTB Nagaraj, who was a close aide of Siddaramaiah, as he had agreed to withdraw his resignation but later went back on his words. Shivakumar told him that the next fight will only be on the battlefield.
“I could have locked him like they (BJP) did. But I did not as I trusted these MLAs. There are difference that emerge within a family. And if we cannot solve it with persuasion, what else can? We will wait,” Shivakumar had said while the political crisis blew up in Karnataka last month.
“I told MTB that our next fight will be on the battlefield (next election in Hosakote). My friends have backstabbed me,” he had added, expressing unhappiness at the attitude of the rebels.
A chief minister in the waiting, the Congress veteran Shivakumar rose to power as a youth Congress leader, challenging Janata Dal party supremo HD Devegowda in the late 80s. Under the guidance of former chief minister SM Krishna, Shivakumar emerged as a tall leader within the party and posed a big threat to JD(S) in the old-Mysore region. Krishna, Shivakumar and Gowda all belonged to the dominant vokkaliga caste.
It all started in 1985 when he was just 23 years old. He unsuccessfully contested against Deve Gowda that year. He later won the Assembly election in 1989 and went on to become prisons minister in the government led by S Bangarappa.
His leadership skill back then attracted the Congress big brass. He defeated all the three JD(S) family members — Deve Gowda, his son HD Kumaraswamy and daughter-in-law Anita Kumaraswamy. He went on to become urban development minister during SM Krishna’s regime, held the energy portfolio during Siddaramaiah’s tenure and the irrigation portfolio in the latest coalition government.
His younger brother DK Suresh’s victory from Bangalore rural Lok Sabha seat gave a shot in the arm for Shivakumar.
Shivakumar is one of the richest Congress MLAs in the country. As per the affidavit filed before the 2018 polls, Shivakumar declared assets worth ₹840 crore.
Income tax and enforcement directorate raids are not new to him. Shivakumar is accused in at least four corruption cases including destruction of evidence and illegal land acquisitions. Several cases of illegal mining and illegal transportation of granite in Kanakapura and Ramanagara were filed against him and his family members.
Reports allege that the I-T raids on Shivakumar landed Coffee Day Enterprises owner VG Siddhartha in the I-T net. Siddhartha was found dead earlier this week.
While Siddaramaiah was not initially willing to give a ministerial berth to Shivakumar considering his tainted image, he succumbed to the pressure from top leaders. He later accused the BJP of using political vendetta against Shivakumar by using the I-T department to raid his buildings.
His patience and arrogance that came with power and wealth threatened his opponents. He held the coalition together though he fought the JD(S) tooth and nail in the May 2018 Assembly elections in the old-Mysore region.
“This is politics. Anything can happen at any moment. Nothing is permanent,” Shivakumar has said.
In 2018, Shivakumar was tasked to get back the Ballari Lok Sabha seat from where Sonia Gandhi once defeated BJP’s Sushma Swaraj. The iron ore-rich Ballari went into the hands of the BJP in 2004 and the Reddy brothers held the seat for three terms. In the by-election Congress won the seat with Shivakumar campaigning hard for the party candidate VS Ugrappa.
These were occasions where the state Congress relied on him heavily. There are instances where the Congress party even at the national level was dependent on him.
In 2017, the BJP tried to defeat Sonia Gandhi’s close aide Ahmed Patel in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha election. The panicky Congress, which looked for a safe haven to lodge its 44 MLAs, reached out to Shivakumar, who sheltered them at a private resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Shivakumar emerged as a key strategist who outsmarted Amit Shah’s tactics and killed the poaching bid made by the BJP. Not a single MLA defected to the BJP and Patel went on to win the seat.
Hoarding of MLAs was not new to DKShi. He had done it way back in 2002 when the Vilas Rao Deshmukh government was under threat. DKShi helped him move Congress MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru. He escorted the MLAs back to the Maharashtra Assembly and ensured Deshmukh survived the crisis.
A CM in waiting, Shivakumar is now considered as an ace strategist for Congress’ revival in Karnataka and a shrewd politician who can take on the BJP.