In July 2017, when the Gujarat Congress decided to shift 44 of their MLAs from the state, to avoid poaching ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls, the task of keeping them safe in Karnataka was given to their go-to-man – DK Shivakumar.
The reputation he gained during that 2017 episode ensured that Shivakumar was given the task of keeping Congress MLAs in Karnataka safe, ahead of the crucial vote of confidence after the 2018 Assembly election in May.
But in the past two months, this go-to-man has become a headache for his party. His ambition to become the Chief Minister of Karnataka is dragging the party and the coalition government towards a crisis.
DK Shivakumar’s aspiration to become the chief minister is not a secret in political circles. To increase his sphere of influence beyond his stronghold in South Karnataka, he has allegedly attempted a proxy coup in the local politics of North Karnataka’s Belagavi district, located more than 500 km from Bengaluru.
Keeping Laxmi Hebbalkar, another Congress leader, in front, he is attempting to win control over the local bodies and institutions in Belagavi. But the two Jarkiholi brothers – Ramesh and Satish – have asked the Congress to keep DK Shivakumar out of Belagavi or face the consequences.
But what exactly has Shivakumar been doing to take on the brothers in the region?
Laxmi Hebbalkar and the Banks
After Bengaluru, Belagavi has the highest number of constituencies in Karnataka. To become chief minister someday, Shivakumar requires the support of legislators beyond his stronghold in South Karnataka – and Belagavi happens to be the biggest district in North Karnataka.
But, the politics of this region are largely controlled by the two Jarkiholi brothers – Satish and Ramesh. Satish is a close ally of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Ramesh is Minister for Municipalities and Urban Local Bodies in the Karnataka cabinet.
The younger brother, Satish, is an aspirant for the post of chief minister, mainly because of the influence the family has over Belagavi and other parts of North Karnataka.
DK Shivakumar’s attempts to enter Belagavi’s politics are being looked at as a means to reduce the Jarkiholis’ influence over the region and gain loyalists from the region who would instead support him.
In this task, a Congress leader from North Karnataka, Laxmi Hebbalkar is DK Shivakumar’s new ally. She is contesting the political clout enjoyed by the Jarkiholi brothers, by trying to control the cooperative and other smaller banks, which are key to the businesses and politics of the region.
For instance, Hebbalkar, with the help of DK Shivakumar, had successfully managed to replace the Jarkiholis’ men with candidates of her choice on the board of the Primary Land Development Bank in Belagavi, in the first week of September.
The Caste Equations
After control over the banks, the next front Shivakumar has tried to open has been that of caste equations. The two Jarkiholi brothers belong to the Valmiki community, which is a Scheduled Tribe (ST). But Belagavi has a large Lingayat population, to which Hebbalkar belongs.
Hebbalkar and DK Shivakumar hope this will gain her the support of the influential community. This in turn would help DK Shivakumar field candidates of his choice in the upcoming elections, citing Hebbalkar’s popularity in the Lingayat community.
This move, however, has now led to the unification of the warring members of the Valmiki community, perhaps even across party lines. According to Congress party sources, there are talks going on between Ramesh Jarkiholi and BJP leader Sriramulu, who is also a Valmiki, to get their children married.
Control Over Other Districts
Shivakumar, although from South Karnataka, has been appointed as the district in-charge minister for Ballari (more popularly known as Bellary) district in North Karnataka. Two influential MLAs from the district, Anant Singh and B Nagendra, are already loyal to him.
Apart from them, one of the strong leaders from North Karnataka’s Dharwad – Vinay Kulkarni – is also a close ally of Shivakumar.
Setback for DK Shivakumar?
The controversy created by DK Shivakumar’s coup has resulted in instability in the coalition government, leading to speculation that the Jarkiholi brothers could leave the Congress for the BJP.
BS Yeddyurappa, former chief minister and state president of the BJP may have indicated this when he claimed ‘some prominent leaders’ will be joining the BJP soon. Ramesh Jarkiholi, however, met Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara and clarified he and his brother won’t be going over to the BJP. However, he also insisted that DK Shivakumar should stay out of Belagavi’s politics..
With the Jarkiholi brothers mounting pressure on the Congress, DK Shivakumar has been asked to take a step back by the party. However, many within the Congress party believe it might take a while before the instability caused by his ambition settles down.
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