There are many similarities between Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and his Bihar counterpart, Nitish Kumar. Both are from the Janata Party stock, belong to backward communities, have clean reputations and are good administrators. They, arguably, are the best finished products of the social justice movement.
Fast forward the wheel to 2013. Siddaramaiah shares Nitish’s disdain for Narendra Modi and could — if able to give the clean administration for which Karnataka longs after the BJP misrule — provide Congress the talking point to counter Modi’s development plank.
As the country’s IT hub, Bengaluru reverberates more across India than any other metropolis. His party would’ve found a poster boy for development if the new CM rejuvenates the city’s collapsing infrastructure in the run-up to the 2014 polls.
“Bengaluru is India’s nose, not just Karnataka’s. If we restore it to global standards, half the perceptional battle’s won,” said state higher education minister RV Deshpande. The focus in the longer run would have to be on how the city should look 30 years from now.
Siddaramaiah is conscious of Bengaluru’s importance as his show-window. He has the city’s affairs under his charge to set right the irritants: scarce drinking water, urban congestion, effete waste disposal, bad roads and poor law and order that have made investors look the other way.
Over the years, software companies that transformed Bengaluru into India’s Silicon Valley have either exited or scaled down operations. “We have to regain that advantage and show the change in 3-4 months,” admitted state Congress chief G Parameshwara.
He saw no reason why the Congress shouldn’t use Siddaramaiah to counter Modi who, according to him, wasn’t a serious challenger in the southern states. He claimed his party would be a bigger victor if the BJP made the Gujarat CM its prime ministerial candidate.
But veteran journalist Ishwara Daitota’s prognosis was more realistic. He felt religious leaders close to BS Yeddyurappa could broker peace between him and the BJP. The contest then would be way tougher for the Congress.
“Siddaramaiah has too much to do in too little time,” said Daitota. He has to set the administration right, ensure delivery and win another election in less than a year. That alone will consolidate his position. Or else, he could meet the fate of Veerendra Patil. The latter became CM with 179 legislators in 1989 but didn’t last the full term. S Bangarappa and Veerappa Moily succeeded him as CMs in the same assembly.
Restoring Bengaluru to health is his priority. But Siddaramaiah’s first decision was to reach help to the poor — 30 kg rice at R1 per kg to BPL families.
Having presented over half a dozen budgets and served twice as deputy CM, he’s no political neophyte. He can be the Congress’s Nitish for he speaks Hindi and English with equal facility and has the right political grounding to take on Modi.
“But he can be short-tempered under pressure,” noted Daitota. The biggest challenge that he saw for the CM was of keeping his clean profile while winning votes and raising funds for elections.
There again, a face-lift for Bengaluru should help the former socialist win friends where money’s generated—the corporate world. Big business should be keen as much to help him push up Karnataka’s average 8.31% growth (since 2004). “We’ve to give investors a feel good factor in the IT, BT and manufacturing sectors,” said Parameshwara.
It’s time, therefore, for the CM to get going. For the going will get tough each passing day.