The race for the chief minister’s post in Karnataka on Thursday narrowed down to Union labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge and outgoing Congress legislature party (CLP) leader Siddaramaiah with both sides claiming the support of majority of party legislators.
While Kharge’s camp claimed support of around 75 newly-elected legislators, Siddaramaiah said all the 120 party MLAs were with him.
But 71-year-old Kharge has an edge as he is a prominent Dalit face in the state which has never had a chief minister from the Scheduled Castes.
Siddaramaiah, 65, too is a powerful backward caste leader, belonging to the Kuruba or shepherd community, but the ‘outsider’ tag weighs heavily against him.
He merged his All India Progressive Janata Dal with the Congress in 2006 after he left the Janata Dal (Secular) of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. Defence minister AK Antony is said to have played a major role in his induction in the Congress that time.
Congress sources said Siddaramaiah is “weakening his case” by threatening a Virbhadra Singh like revolt in Karnataka. However, the situation in the southern state is different.
“But there is a striking difference between the two. While Virbhadra was instrumental in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka victory was a joint effort,” a senior Congress leader said.
However, Congress leaders maintained that Siddaramaiah could play spoilsport if denied the post. Siddaramaiah had threatened to resign from the CLP and the opposition party leader’s post in June last year after his close associate CM Ibrahim was denied ticket for the legislative council elections.
The CLP is meeting on Friday noon in Bengaluru to take a view on the issue. It is widely expected that the CLP will adopt a one-line resolution, authorising Congress president Sonia Gandhi to announce the chief minister’s name.
Among other contenders are Union petroleum minister M Veerappa Moily, state leaders RV Deshapande, DK Shivakumar, Shyamanur Shivashankarappa, TB Jayachandra and HK Patil.