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In Siddaramaiah, Karnataka’s Congress dissidents find a leader to rally behind

Dissent within Karnataka Congress over cabinet expansion has been festering, and over time, the anger has concentrated on state unit chief G Parameshwara. Many Congress leaders believe Parameshwara had only looked after his own interests in ensuring that he got the deputy CM’s post.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2018 11:15 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Siddaramaiah,Karnataka,Congress
A leaked video clip shows Siddaramaiah criticising the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government’s decision to announce a full budget, just over three months after the former chief minister had presented a budget that had many new schemes in it. (HT/File Photo)

A 10-day break at a naturopathy retreat in the Western Ghats has turned into a show of power for former chief minister Siddaramaiah, with dissident Congress MLAs making a beeline to the pilgrimage town of Dharmasthala to meet their leader.

Dissent within the Congress over the expansion of the coalition government’s cabinet has been festering, and over time, the anger has concentrated on Karnataka Congress chief G Parameshwara. Many Congress leaders HT spoke to said that Parameshwara had only looked after his own interests in ensuring that he got the deputy chief minister’s post.

Much attention had been focused on a leaked video clip where Siddaramaiah is seen criticising the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government’s decision to announce a full budget, just over three months after the former chief minister had presented a budget that had many new schemes in it.

One former minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the feud between Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy was an old one that was unlikely to die down any time soon. “But there is a level of dissent within the party that has gone unnoticed in this episode. And this dissent is aimed at Parameshwara, who is considered by many as having looked after his own interests,” the leader said.

A close aide of the former chief minister said at least 30 of the Congress’s 80 MLAs had visited the former chief minister at Dharmasthala. To be sure, even Parameshwara and Karnataka Congress working president Dinesh Gundu Rao have visited Siddaramaiah recently.

A senior party leader said there is a vacuum in the party, as Parameshwara is expected to step down from the state unit chief’s post, and there is nobody who could step into this breach. “Neither Parameshwara nor Gundu Rao command the amount of respect within the party as Siddaramaiah does,” the leader said. With this being the case, the leader said, rather than Siddaramaiah rallying the troops, it is the other way around.

“With anger growing against Parameshwara and the high command’s delay in naming a new chief, it is only a matter of time before MLAs rally behind Siddaramaiah, the tallest leader in the state unit at present,” the leader said.

One of those who is said to be in close contact with the former CM is Rajarajeshwari Nagar MLA Munirathna. However, speaking to HT, he denied that there is any dissent in the party. “We always work for the party and for us, the Congress comes first. Whatever has been speculated in the media is untrue,” he said.

With six cabinet berths still vacant, the former minister quoted above said that it is only natural for the MLAs to lobby with Siddaramaiah, as he heads the coordination committee formed to oversee the functioning of the coalition government. “Among those meeting Siddaramaiah now, there are those who are aspirants for cabinet berths and those who are close to him. Hence, it is clear that their only objective is to lobby within the party to ensure that they either get a ministry or get nominated to head some governmental boards.”

Others too agree that the Congress has to tread carefully at this point as it is essential to keep Siddaramaiah on board at this point in time.

Narayan A, faculty at Azim Premji University, said the Congress is faced with the risk of having two power centres. “Siddaramaiah has always been a dissident when he has had to work under another leader. And this will be the case with the Congress now,” he said.

According to Narayana, Siddaramaiah’s ambition was to become the chief minister, and with this now out of the way, there is little leverage the Congress has over him. “Besides, within the party’s state unit, there is no leader who can effectively balance this influence of Siddaramaiah. And for this reason, dissidents will find him an ideal leader to rally behind,” he said.

But, Narayana said, there are limits to this dissent. “Siddaramaiah is not a leader who can break the party and damage it as he is equally dependent on the Congress to continue his legacy. Besides, there are some doubts over claims that he is the unquestioned leader even of the Kuruba community, to which he belongs,” he said.

Meanwhile, responding to the Siddaramaiah’s criticism of the coalition government’s decision to come out with a new budget, former prime minister and JD(S) chief Deve Gowda said that while he would not say Siddaramaiah was wrong as he had a lot of knowledge about the state’s finances, but this is a new coalition. “This is a new government and presenting a new budget is the practice,” Deve Gowda said.

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 10:57 IST