With the Congress securing absolute majority in Karnataka, hectic lobbying has begun for the chief minister’s post. Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi asserted that the newly-elected legislators will elect their leader, the final decision rests with the party high command.
The defeat of state Congress chief G Parameshwara has narrowed down the frontrunner’s list to three and leading the race is union labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge. He is closely followed by outgoing Congress legislature party leader Siddaramaiah and union petroleum minister M Veerappa Moily.
Kharge, 71, is the tallest Dalit leader of the Congress party in the state. Having missed the bus in 1997 and 2004, he has a strong chance of becoming the first Dalit chief minister of the state this time. Karnataka has never had a chief minister from the Scheduled Castes though they constitute nearly 23% of the state’s population.
Kharge has never lost an election in his political career spanning around 45 years. A nine-time legislator and a one-time Lok Sabha MP, he is credited with getting special status accorded to the North Karnataka region. Apart from holding various cabinet portfolios in Karnataka, Kharge also headed the state Congress from 2005 to 2009.
Siddaramaiah, 65, too is a strong claimant for the top job. A powerful backward class (Kuruba) leader from the old Mysore region, he has twice been deputy chief minister of the state. He was elected to the assembly for the first time in 1983 on a Janata Party ticket.
After the split in the Janata Dal, he joined the JD(S) led by HD Deve Gowda and became the president of its state unit. Following differences with Gowda, Siddaramaiah joined the Congress in 2006, was elected to the assembly two years later and appointed as the CLP leader. However, the ‘outsider’ tag will hamper his chances of becoming CM and his detractors in the Congress say he is yet to learn the way the party functions.
Another strong contender is petroleum minister M Veerappa Moily, 73, a veteran in state politics. Elected to the assembly for the first time in 1972, he went on to become chief minister in 1992 and remained at the helm till the 1994 elections.
Moily, who belongs to the OBC segment, was a minister thrice in the state and also held the crucial finance portfolio. He was elected as an MLA six times and was also the leader of the opposition in the assembly between 1983 and 1985.
Moily contested the Lok Sabha elections for the first time in 2009 and was elected from the Chikkballapur constituency and given the law and justice portfolio as a cabinet minister. However, he has been away from state politics for some time now and this could go against him.
The state has seen 21 chief ministers since 1947 out of which 8 have been from the Lingayat community, 7 from Vokkaligas and 2 from the Brahmin community. Only 4 chief ministers have been from backward communities and all of them were from the Congress party. The two upper-caste communities – Lingayats and Vokkaligas – have been traditionally opposed to the Congress. While Lingayats constitute 16% of the state’s population, Vokkaligas are 11%.