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Karnataka Congress suffering from lack of decisive leadership

Though Siddaramaiah was elected the Congress Legislature Party leader and KPCC president and G Parameshwara was made deputy CM, there is a leadership vacuum in the Karnataka Congress.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2018 23:40 IST
Venkatesha Babu
Venkatesha Babu
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
After being walloped in his old Chamundeshwari constituency and barely scraping through in Badami, former CM Siddaramaiah is a pale shadow of his earlier dominant self. (HT/File Photo)

It is nearly a month since Karnataka voted to throw up a hung assembly with no party getting a clear majority.

Uncharacteristically though, Congress moved swiftly, first to the Supreme Court for a quick floor test to ensure no possibility of horse trading by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and then to tie-up with the Janata Dal (Secular) to form a coalition government.

It swallowed pride when it gave away the chief ministership to a regional party which had half of its vote share and number of seats, but which ensured that the BJP did not capture yet another state. The speed and agility displayed by the Congress surprised most observers. That was the high point.

Since then though, Congress has slid back to its old somnolent ways, by letting events overtake the narrative instead of trying to shape it. First, the party took nearly two weeks to come up with its list of ministers.

Second its inability to ensure that disgruntled MLA’s don’t speak out of turn — at least publicly, has hurt the coalition government, by creating the impression that it is on shaky ground.

To be fair, unlike its partner JD(S) which is seen as a Vokkaliga party and which won almost all of its seats in the Old Mysuru area, the Congress, in spite of its inability to get a majority, is a big tent of competing aspirations of various castes, class, region, and religion.

Given that its share in the ministry was limited to 22 portfolios, accommodating everybody was always going to be a tough challenge. Which is also the reason why it has kept six vacancies in its share of ministries.

However, what has hurt the Karnataka Congress the most has been a lack of decisive leadership. Though Siddaramaiah was elected as the Congress Legislature Party leader and KPCC president and G Parameshwara was made the deputy CM, there is a leadership vacuum in the state Congress.

After being walloped in his old Chamundeshwari constituency and barely scraping through in Badami, Siddaramaiah is a pale shadow of his former dominant self. Unable to get cabinet berths for even his closest acolytes like MB Patil and Satish Jarkiholi, he has withdrawn into a shell, touring his new constituency in a remote part of the state, rather than putting out the fires of internal dissidence.

Also, interestingly senior leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot and even the general secretary-in-charge of the state, KC Venugopal, all of whom played a key role in government formation, have hardly been seen in the state, subsequently.

Deputy CM Parameshwara, of course, has never been seen as a decisive leader. While he is seen as an agreeable leader qualified to play a part in a coalition government, where the wily father-sons of JD(S) leadership run rings around him, he is unable to quell the internal revolt. Which is why CM Kumaraswamy stepped into mollify Congress MLA MB Patil.

This was unprecedented as a leader of the JD(S) was meddling in the Congress’ internal affairs.

With the presidentship of the KPCC also up for grabs, every Congress leader worth his salt has thrown their hat into the ring. Every satrap within state Congress is playing a game of brinkmanship taking advantage of the razor-thin majority enjoyed by the coalition. The Congress high command needs to smack down with a heavy hand if its authority is not to be eroded irretrievably.

In spite of threats, no MLA is ready to face elections again. Dissidents don’t have the numbers required to overcome the anti-defection law. While understandably the Congress high command is wary, it needs to handle the situation with a degree of finesse, a mixture of addressing real issues and an iron fist. But first, it needs to fix leadership issues in the state by quickly appointing a KPCC president and filling a few more ministeral vacancies.

First Published: Jun 09, 2018 23:29 IST