The rumblings in Congress in Karnataka due to the exit of former Union minister SM Krishna and the letters from two veteran leaders to Prime Minister Narendra Modi—one showering praises on him and the other endorsing RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s candidature for the President’s post—has rattled the party ahead of next year’s assembly elections in the state.
With the BJP shifting its focus to Karnataka after stupendous victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and forming the governments in Goa and Manipur despite being the second largest party in both the states, Congress is facing the heat in Karnataka due to huge anti-incumbency and allegations of corruption against its government. The state goes to polls in March-April 2018.
But before that, chief minister Siddaramaiah faces an acid test in the two by-elections in Nanjangud and Gundlupet constituencies in the Mysore region of the state on April 9.
BJP chief Amit Shah has already declared ‘Mission 150’ (150 out of the total 224 seats in the state assembly) for the 2018 polls. The pressure is now on Siddaramaiah to perform and retain power in Karnataka which is the only big state held by the Congress as of now. Punjab is the second big state in its kitty.
In a bid to stem the exodus, the Congress leadership has stepped up efforts to persuade former Union minister CK Jaffer Sharief and another veteran MV Rajasekharan to stay put.
However, state Congress leaders say the “actions” by these veterans suggest they have lost relevance and are desperately trying to be in the news.
In a letter to the PM, Sharief (84) had backed Bhagwat for the President’s post, saying there should not be any doubt about his patriotism, love for the people of India and loyalty to the nation despite belonging to “one school of thought”.
Similarly, 89-year-old Rajasekharan congratulated the Prime Minister for BJP’s success in the recent assembly elections and drew parallels between late prime minister Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ (abolish poverty) slogan and Modi’s welfare measures for the poor and the middle class.
However, the son-in-law of former Karnataka chief minister S Nijalingappa and a Congress Working Committee member later clarified that he has no intention of leaving the party and joining the BJP. “I will always be in Congress,” he said.
Congress general secretary BK Hariprasad, who hails from Karnataka, took a dig at Krishna. “Congress could not fulfill his dream of becoming the president, vice president or the prime minister. It seems BJP has assured him of one of these posts. I wish him good luck,” he told HT. Krishna, 84, joined the BJP last month.
Apart from being external affairs minister in the Manmohan Singh government from 2009 to 2012, Krishna had served as Karnataka chief minister from 1999 to 2004 and Maharashtra governor from 2004 to 2008.
Are the veterans feeling sidelined in the present dispensation?
Many state leaders disagree with this contention and insist that these veterans are trying to stay relevant and at the same want to safeguard their own interests and secure the future of their kin.
“There is something more to it than meets the eye…something that amazes all of us,” said Dinesh Gundu Rao, the Congress party’s working president in Karnataka.
Rao was appointed to the post in June last year even while state home minister G Parameshwara continues to be the Karnataka Congress chief.
“It is high time for seniors to pass on the baton to young leaders who are active in the organisation. There is a limit to what a political party can give to its leaders,” he said.
His colleague Shakir Sanadi said these leaders who enjoyed top positions in the Congress have compromised with the party ideology for personal and family benefits.
“Earlier Congress leaders sacrificed everything for the country and the party ideology. But now some leaders are compromising with the commitment and ideology for political and financial benefits of themselves and their family members,” he said.
Karnataka Youth Congress chief Rizwan Arshad is of the view that these veteran leaders are “no more relevant” in politics and public now and dismissed the notion that they have been sidelined in the party.
“The frustration is because they have been out of power for some time now. They are gravitating towards BJP to protect their own interests. There is no love for BJP but lust for power,” he said.
Arshad and other state leaders pointed out that Sharief twice managed to get the Congress ticket for his grandson CK Abdul Rehman Sharief but lost on both the occasions—first in the 2013 assembly elections and then in last year’s bypoll from Hebbal constituency despite strong opposition from Siddaramaiah.
“It is very strange that the people who have enjoyed maximum power in Congress and even helped their family members benefit over the years are deserting the party at critical times whereas the workers who got nothing stand solidly with the organisation,” said All India Congress Committee (AICC) secretary Suraj Hegde, who also hails from Karnataka.
However, the state leaders maintained that these rumblings won’t affect the Congress in next year’s assembly elections and claimed the party will beat “hands down” not only the anti-incumbency but its adversaries as well. “We will emerge much more stronger from these developments and definitely retain power in Karnataka,” Hegde said.