With the appointment of Vokkaliga leader DK Shivakumar as the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president, the party hopes to revive at the grassroots level and strengthen its base in the state.
Doddalahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar, popularly known as DKShi, started off as a student leader, worked through the ranks and went on to become a Congress’s strongman. He is seen as a troubleshooter, who rose to the occasion in saving the party from crumbling in Karnataka.
The appointment comes in the backdrop of Dinesh Gundu Rao, the erstwhile party chief who resigned after the poll debacle in the state in December last. Rao who took the roles soon after the Karnataka state Assembly elections, could not pull his party workers together during the Lok Sabha elections and also failed to manage the crisis during the coalition regime.
But political analysts now somewhat believe that Shivakumar’s appointment could work in favour of the party.
“Shivakumar certainly will do more for the party compared to Rao. He is more experienced, can reach out to more people in the state, and he can get down to any level to stay by the party’s decisions and is seen as a powerful voice within the party,” said political analyst Harish Ramaswamy.
For a leader who started off in 1985 when he was just 23 years old to fight against Jantala Dal supremo Deve Gowda, Shivakumar went on to win Assembly elections in 1989 and later became prisons minister in the government led by S Bangarappa. There was no turning back ever since. 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 became stronger over the years and his closeness with the then Chief Minister S M Krishna made him a popular figure.
He turned on to become one of the richest Congress MLAs in the country. As per the poll affidavit filed before the election commission, his declared assets grew from mere ₹7 crore in 2004 to ₹840 crore in 2018.
The are many occasions where the state Congress and the Central leadership relied on him heavily with several instances of the party depending on him at the national level.
In 2017, the BJP tried to defeat Sonia Gandhi’s close aide Ahmed Patel in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha election. The Congress party looked for a safe haven to lodge its 44 MLAs and Shivakumar came to the rescue by hosting them in a private resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Shivakumar emerged BJP party strategists to make Patel a winner.
In 2018, he was tasked to get back the Ballari Lok Sabha seat from where Sonia Gandhi once defeated BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, that the party lost to 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.
Yet again, when Karnataka MLAs made a beeline to resign and join BJP to end the coalition regime, Shivakumar rushed to Mumbai to literally beg the MLAs to stay by the party.
His appointment as the party chief, amid the Madhya Pradesh government crisis, also has links with the resort politics that DKshi encourages. He recently made a statement staying he was in touch the Madhya Pradesh Congress leaders and that the government would be saved at all cost.
Hoarding of MLAs was not new to DKShi. He had done it way back in 2002 during Vilas Rao Deshmukh government time and then when Karnataka plunged into chaos with coalitions.
But his rise in power and wealth also attracted enemies. Shivakumar faces corruption charges and even spent time in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in a case of money laundering.
The Federal had reported about the murky deals that landed the leader in trouble.
Besides appointing two others, Satish Jarkiholi (from Valmiki community) and Saleem Ahmed (Muslim) as working presidents, the Congress party retained Eshwar Khandre to the post to signal support to the Lingayat community.
Speaking to the Federal, Khandre said, the first thing they would focus on is to revive the party at the grassroots level, which the party lost out to in recent years with the rise of the BJP. He said, the party would ensure the right-wing party do not capture the old-Mysore region which remains their next target.
“Amid crisis at the ground level and with senior leaders, there’s some stability with the new appointments. We hope to review the party at the grassroots level and give confidence to booth level workers, Khandre said.
But Ramaswamy cautioned that a makeover to the state party post will not help unless the central leadership toe their line and set their house in order soon.
“The State Congress always learned to with live with the high command (central leadership) and its orders. But now it’s not the case. The struggling central leadership should quickly set its house in order and contain dissidence that is rising within the party,” Ramaswamy added.