Siddaramaiah leads Congress campaign for Karnataka bypoll
With exactly a week to go for voting in the crucial bypolls for 15 assembly seats in Karnataka, several senior Congress leaders have been missing from the campaign trail or have made just a token appearances.
The bypolls are crucial because the outcome could decide the fate of the B S Yediyurapp-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which needs to win at least six of the seats to remain in power.
Of the 15 seats going to the bypolls, 12 were held by the Congress before its MLAs decided to quit and 11 of the turncoats are contesting from the BJP. Given that most of these seats are traditional Congress strongholds, the party has been hoping to regain them and prevent the BJP from continuing in power.
The Congress campaign has been primarily led by its legislative party leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who has been criss-crossing the state accompanied by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief Dinesh Gundu Rao. The only other Congress leader of note who has been actively campaigning is D K Shivakumar, who recently spent time in jail in a disproportionate assets case.
In contrast, the BJP has deployed its entire ministerial and party leadership on the campaign trail with both chief minister Yediyurappa as well as state unit president Nalin Kumar Kateel leading from the front.
Siddaramaiah denied that other senior leaders were not campaigning for the party. “H K Patil is campaigning in Hirekerur, (VS) Ugrappa is doing so in several places. Are they not senior leaders? S R Patil is working in a certain constituency. Working president Eshwar Khandre has taken charge of Kagewada, M B Patil has taken charge of Athani,” he told reporters.
When queried on the absence of other senior leaders like former Union minister K H Muniyappa and B K Hariprasad, Siddaramaiah brushed aside the question. “Don’t take some two names….In BJP why is only Yediyurappa running around? Why has neither Amit Shah nor Narendra Modi come for campaigning? Why do you only question us on this aspect, ask them also?”
Inspite of Siddaramaiah’s protestations, an impression is gaining ground that other senior leaders are shying away from the campaign. A senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified and who has largely abstained from the campaign, said: “Siddaramaiah, who came to the party a little over a decade back, is hogging all the limelight. Why should we do everything so that he can take the credit and become the CM again, sidelining people like us who have sacrificed for the party for decades?”
Congress spokesperson U T Khader said it wasn’t true that senior Congress leaders were not active in the campaign. “We have a collective leadership. Siddaramaiah is the CLP [Congress legislature party] leader and along with the KPCC president, it is natural that they will lead from the front. Even Muniyappa, just the other day, campaigned in Hunsur for our party candidate.We are confident of winning all the 15 seats going to the bypolls.”
Political analyst L Manjunath said, “While a Mallikarjuna Kharge missing in action is understandable given that he is busy in Maharashtra party affairs, other senior leaders like Parmeshwara, Muniyappa, Hariprasad as well as others are not very active. There thinking might be that even if Congress wins a majority of the seats, the BJP government may yet survive because of JDS help, so why bother? Siddaramaiah is a polarizing figure not just outside of his party but even within.”
The Janata Dal (Secular) was the Congress’s partner in a coalition that collapsed in July.