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Congress overcomes Karnataka hurdle

opinionColumnistsCongress overcomes Karnataka hurdle

On the eve of the 32nd death anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, a Congress government took charge in Karnataka after a convincing victory over its archrival, the BJP. The ministry making had its share of problems and the tussle between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar, his deputy now, appeared at one stage, as something which threatened to divide the party.
However, it was very clear from the very outset that the kind of seats the Congress obtained, were more than sufficient to ensure that no one left the organization, even if it resulted in disappointment and heartbreak.
Although, Siddaramaiah was the favourite from the start, Shivakumar’s claim was equally justified; after all he was the president of the State Congress and no one can doubt that his hard work galvanized the demoralized workers and brought them out to give their best performance in many years.
The swearing in attended by several political stalwarts from both the Congress and the opposition, sent out a well-defined message across the country that the 2024 electoral battle was not going to be a cakewalk for the BJP. During his short speech, Rahul reiterated the Congress commitment to fulfilling all the promises made during the campaign and described the verdict as the victory of love over hate.
The remarkable feature of the swearing-in on Saturday was that all the ministers who were inducted were chosen on sheer merit, and coincidentally the new Cabinet reflects both the regional as well as caste equations which brought the party to power. The ministers, who took the oath of office after Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar, would have made it to any Cabinet regardless of who the Congress chose as the Chief Minister.
It is understood that the tussle between the top two leaders was resolved following the intervention of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who assured Shivakumar that his interests would be protected. This was enough for the eight-time MLA, who has been a Congress loyalist and whose claim for the CM-ship was viewed as legitimate by many keen observers of Karnataka politics.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who belongs to the state, also played his cards extremely well and kept the contenders in suspense till the last moment. The initial arrangement was that to begin with ten ministers, chosen by each of the two leaders, would be inducted in the Cabinet, but differences again cropped up and both Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar were summoned to the national capital on Friday.
The first meeting was held at organizing secretary K.C. Venugopal’s residence, which was inconclusive and the scene shifted to Mr Kharge’s house towards the evening. There was hard bargaining and the deliberations continued throughout the night till about 3 a.m. on Saturday, when Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar left for the airport to take a chartered flight back to Bengaluru around 4 a.m.
Even as the leaders were still airborne, speculation regarding the likely names was doing the rounds both in Delhi and Bengaluru. There was also a talk of inducting former Chief Minister and now a Congress leader, Jagadish Shettar in the Cabinet despite his loss in the Assembly polls.
Many in Karnataka believe that Shettar would be an asset to the Congress during the Parliamentary elections, and could upset the BJP’s game plan in Lingayat strongholds in general, and North Karnataka in particular. There were also unconfirmed reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were trying to reach out to him, to convince him to return to the BJP fold. A final decision regarding his induction in the Siddaramaiah government would be taken by the party high command shortly.
One of the takeaways from the Congress developments since the past one week is that the electronic media, which is obsessed with only portraying the achievements of the ruling dispensation at the Centre and its governments in the state, had Congress featuring in the headlines. For a party which found very little space in the media, it was a welcome change even if many of the TV anchors predicted a Rajasthan type situation in the southern state and likened Shivakumar to Sachin Pilot, in a completely wrong analysis of the emerging scenario. Both the states are different and Shivakumar in particular, being a dedicated and diehard Congress loyalist, can never dream of revolting against the high command, particularly when he is being complimented throughout the country for being one of the architects of the grand performance.
The Congress victory and the manner in which it has been achieved, has rattled the BJP, which is attempting to reinvent itself in the only southern state, where it has had a respectable presence. The party shall also try and learn from the Karnataka experience so it is not repeated in other states which go to polls later this year.
The Congress is riding high and hopes to cross the barriers in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. If that happens and the grand old party gets rejuvenated, it shall spell trouble for the BJP even in the Parliamentary polls.
The Karnataka victory cannot be dismissed as a fluke since it also showcases the mantra of winning, if the internal house is in order and the polls are managed properly. However, the Congress has a long way to go and must pay greater emphasis on strengthening the organisation. It is time for Mr Kharge to assert himself forcefully to set the agenda. Between us.

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