Former Karnataka Congress ministers angle for party posts
Over a month since the Congress nearly dissolved its state unit to undertake an overhaul in Karnataka, it finds itself out of power after ruling the state for over six years and confronting a situation in which senior leaders are jockeying for party posts.
On June 19, the Congress dissolved all committees of the state unit, and removed all office-bearers, except state unit president Dinesh Gundu Rao and working president Eshwar Khandre.
The move followed a rout in the Lok Sabha polls in May, which the Congress contested in an alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular). In the polls, the parties managed to win just one seat each out of the 28 constituencies in the state.
The poll result had come as a handy tool to make leaders accept the necessity of an overhaul. A similar exercise had last been undertaken in 2012, by the then state Congress president G Parameshwara. The party thought it would remove non-performers and reward dedicated workers this time as well.
After the Congress-JD(S) coalition lost last week’s trust vote following a rebellion by some legislators, paving the way for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to assume office, senior leaders who were ministers until recently have to now be accommodated within the party structure in a manner that does not bruise their egos.
A senior Congress leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the coalition’s fall had changed equations considerably. “Of course, we are a little more relaxed now that the coalition is no longer in power because we had to put out fires every single day,” the leader said. “Now, though all the senior leaders are eyeing a post for themselves or their supporters in the party structure to demonstrate their influence to the rank-and-file,” the leader said.
Gundu Rao and Khandre, the leaders primarily in charge of the rejig, were set to make the decisions in consultation with seniors like former chief minister and Congress Legislature Party chief Siddaramaiah, former deputy chief minister Parameshwara, the party’s troubleshooter DK Shivaumar, and national leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad and All India Congress Committee general secretary KC Venugopal.
Another senior leader said that the primary question at the moment was what position the party would give Shivakumar, considering his antics in Mumbai, where he protested outside the hotel where the rebel MLAs, whose resignations pulled down the coalition, had been lodged.
“There is no doubt that some leaders in New Delhi were impressed by his theatrics. However, they have cut little ice in the state unit because he defeated the purpose for which he went to Mumbai, which was to get back the rebels,” the second leader said.
The first leader said that there was no denying that Shivakumar, through his clever use of the media, projected himself yet again as a bigger leader to the high command than he was. “No matter how many times DK refutes reports that he is an aspirant for either the vacant Leader of the Opposition chair or the Karnataka Congress president post, there is no doubt in our minds that he craves a big post as a reward for his commitment to the party.”
The Congress is undergoing a mini crisis, as was proved when 14 of its MLAs turned rebels. However, senior leaders say that many who were not committed to the party had come to the fold because the party was in power. “Over time, especially because we were in power since 2013, we had accumulated a lot of leaders who were not at all bothered about the party. We welcome their exit and, in fact, we won’t stop others from leaving as well,” said the second Congress leader, who was a minister in the previous Siddaramaiah government.
The thinking behind this strategy is that the party want only those committed to its cause to stay back, as leaders feel confident that unlike in other parts of the country, it will continue to remain the largest party in the state, at least in terms of vote share.
With the BS Yediyurappa-led BJP government in place in the state, and devoid of the coalition with the JD(S), party leaders feel they will be able to rejuvenate the Congress cadre by being a vocal opposition.
“Even the 2018 assembly elections proved, that there is only one party capable of winning a majority in the state, and that is the Congress,” the second Congress leader quoted above said, referring to the fact that the BJP in 2018 and 2008 could not cross the 113 seats majority threshold in the 224-member assembly.