A day after it lost Karnataka, senior leaders and MLAs of the Congress met at the party’s Queens Road headquarters in Bengaluru. On the agenda was striking consensus for a post-poll alliance with the JD(S) in order to stake claim to form the government.
But by afternoon, the mood within the party had soured. Angry MLAs and senior leaders trained guns on Siddaramaiah, blaming him for the Congress’ defeat. But far from his characteristic confidence and defiance, the outgoing chief minister broke down, taking full responsibility for the defeat.
Since then, the face of the Congress’ Karnataka campaign, who led the Congress party from the front, has taken a backseat. While DK Shivakumar was responsible for keeping the Congress’ herd together, G Prameshwar took the lead in forming the coalition with the JD(S).
The photograph of an aloof-looking Siddaramaiah sitting in one corner of the Raj Bhavan while HD Kumaraswamy and Ghulam Nabi Azad seemed engaged in an animated conversation, went viral online.
The general commentary revolved around how the image was prophetic of Siddaramaiah’s political future – sullen and sidelined.
But is it that easy to brush aside a leader like Siddaramaiah?
Fact is, he is not just another regional leader. Siddaramiah has been a successful administrator in recent times, with his welfare schemes earning him the respect of the masses. Even though the party lost the elections, Congress actually polled a higher vote share (38 percent) than it did in 2013 (when it got 36.6 percent). The increase is associated with the welfare schemes of Siddaramiah’s government.
This has somewhat ensured that Siddaramiah is respected across party lines, even after the polls. When BS Yeddyurappa, the defeated two-day old chief minister, announced his resignation in the Karnataka Assembly, he raised concerns about Siddaramaiah being sidelined by the coalition. He even said, HD Kumaraswamy “was nothing compared to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah”.
In a show of statesmanship, HD Kumaraswamy acknowledged BS Yeddyurappa’s concerns and said, “I am aware of the experience Siddarmaiah brings with him. I will consult him on all matters. It is not true that the Congress high command or I have sidelined him in any way.”
Siddaramaiah chose not to respond to either of them.
However, the Congress party seems split on how its political rival, BS Yeddyurappa, and ally, HD Kumaraswamy, view Siddaramaiah.
Speaking to The Quint, a senior Congress leader measured his words carefully while describing Siddaramaiah’s new role as a mentor in the party. “He is now the head of the coalition coordination committee. Although the committee has three members from the Congress and two from the JD(S), Siddaramaiah is considered a neutral person. In Congress, he is the legislative party leader, which is a powerful position from where he can guide the party using his experience.”
But not all are ready to buy this theory. Another Congress leader, who campaigned for a cabinet berth, pointed out that even though Siddaramaiah is said to be a tall leader, MLAs close to him were denied berths. “Someone like KG George may have been given a berth, but heavyweights like MB Patil and Satish Jarkiholi, who stood by Siddaramaiah, were side-lined,” he said
A Narayana, political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji institute also pointed out that with HD Kumaraswamy getting closer to Rahul Gandhi and consulting him directly, the role of the coalition coordination committee is limited.
"The post of the coordination committee chairman or legislative party leader has been given to Siddaramaiah to keep the caste politics intact. Apart from Siddaramaiah, no other leader can rally in Kuruba community or the AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits vote bank)." - A Narayana, political analyst
One can also argue that Siddaramaiah has himself withdrawn from serious decision-making. Case in point: when the Congress was facing serious dissidence over the cabinet allocation, Siddaramaiah left for Badami for five days in order to thank the voters for their support.
Even now, while the discussions on the fresh budget to be presented by the newly formed coalition government are ongoing, Siddaramaiah has retreated to a yoga and nature cure hospital for a two-week long detox treatment in Udupi.
Understandably, there’s been speculation over whether Siddaramaiah would be made to contest a Lok Sabha election. Those close to him say that in the current scenario, it appears unlikely that he will agree to move to the national political stage. “As Congress still doesn’t look confident of winning in 2019, a mere Member of Parliament position would not suit a man of his stature,” we were told.
As far his role as a mentor is concerned, before leaving for the treatment, Siddaramaiah had some advice for HD Kumaraswamy.
As his government had presented a full budget ahead of the elections, Siddaramaiah requested Kumaraswamy to only add a supplementary budget to the existing budget.
Whether Kumaraswamy agrees to this request or not, will indicate Siddaramaiah’s relevance in the current political scenario in the state.
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