The recently held Youth Congress election in Karnataka has brought the party’s internal tussle to the fore. Mohammed Haris Nalapad, son of three-time MLA NA Haris, won the election with nearly a 7,000-vote margin.
However, the party’s internal poll committee (Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections, or FAME) disqualified Nalapad over a 2018 assault case, when he beat up a fellow citizen in a bar.
The party chose runner-up candidate Raksha Ramaiah, son of senior Congress leader MR Seetharam, as the Youth Congress president.
Following the bar brawl incident in 2018, the party suspended Nalapad for six years until 2024. Despite this, it allowed him to contest in the Youth Congress election. And he continued to engage in party activities over the last two years, garnering support from party cadres in large numbers. Nalapad even played a key role in steering the party during the assembly by-polls.
Nalapad disqualification came at the behest of leaders who felt that making him the president would dent the party’s image.
At the outset, Congress party president DK Shivakumar backed Nalapad, while former chief minister Siddaramaiah backed Ramaiah for the presidential candidature.
The Congress appointed Shivakumar as the president in July 2020, but the party fared badly in the assembly by-polls held last year. It lost in Sira and Rajarajeshwari Nagar.
Shivakumar also continues to be investigated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) in a disproportionate assets case. Owing to this, he is unable to get a hold on the party affairs, Congress leaders note.
Two months ago, senior leaders approached the high command accusing Shivakumar of not taking others along and not raising voices against the ruling government, despite ample opportunity to corner them over their mismanagement of the pandemic. They also highlighted the lack of coordination between the leaders within the party.
Siddaramaiah, the opposition leader in the assembly, has been cornering the BJP government on various issue and even raising voice on social media platforms. Siddaramaiah was the party president before Shivakumar took over and he is still seen as a strong leader compared to the latter.
Siddaramaiah has hinted at a change of guard at the state level before the next assembly election (in 2023). Also, the appointment of candidates backed by him for the working president posts (Satish Jarkiholi and Eshwar Khandre) gave a boost to his leadership. Siddaramaiah, who fears losing hold over the Vokkaliga base in the south Karnataka region, in fact, had categorically opposed Shivakumar becoming the president; he preferred former Minister MB Patil taking the lead. But the high-command rewarded Shivakumar for his key role in the party over the years.
While Nalapad accepted the results and said he would continue to be guided by Shivakumar, he was hopeful that the party would find a suitable post for him as he had secured the maximum votes. A section of supporters wrote to the party chief to at least make Nalapad the working president (youth wing), which the Siddaramaiah camp opposed. He released a video urging his supporters not to speak anything against senior leaders or the winning candidate.
While Congress leaders welcomed the decision of FAME on Nalapad’s candidature, they also expressed worries that he should not have been allowed to contest in the first place.
In an attempt to pacify the losing team, Shivakumar brushed aside these internal tussles and said he too was fighting cases filed by BJP workers and that he too tasted defeat in the early days of his political career. “Spirit of competition displayed by the candidates is important irrespective of the election result,” he said.
Shivakumar further added that he will take both the candidates along and work towards making Karnataka BJP “mukt” even as he plans to strengthen the party at the grassroots level.
With the BJP joining hands with the JDS, the competition between them will only intensify as the saffron party would target the Vokkaliga vote base and try to divide the two leaders, which could intensify the rift within the Congress party.