By Fakir Balaji
Bengaluru, July 5 (IANS) The opposition Congress has picked its Man Friday D.K. Shivakumar to revive its fortunes in Karnataka after three consecutive electoral defeats since May 2018 state Assembly polls, with the worst being in May 2019 general elections, when it retained one and lost 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats it contested in a pre-poll alliance with the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) in the southern state.
In a stunning performance, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 25 of the 27 parliamentary seats it contested and supported Independent Sumalatha Ambarish to win the 28th seat in Mandya, about 100km from Bengaluru.
The JD-S, which contested 7 Lok Sabha seats, also retained one.
In the December 5, 2019 by-elections to 15 Assembly seats, the grand old party won 2 and lost 12 to the BJP and one to an Independent in triangular contests as it did not have pre-poll tie-up with its estranged ally — the JD-S.
Ironically, the 12 who won on the BJP ticket were defectors from the Congress and the JD-S, whose resignations from their Assembly seats led to the fall of their 14-month old coalition government on July 23, 2019 for losing majority in the 225-member House under its JD-S Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.
Though the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government completed 5-year term from 2013 to 2018 and hoped to retain power, a hung verdict in the 2018 Assembly elections forced it to enter into a post-poll alliance with its arch rival JD-S to keep the BJP out of power and formed a coalition government on May 23, 2019, after the 3-day BJP government fell on May 19, 2019.
Resignation by Congress’ state unit president Dinesh Gundu Rao on December 9, owning moral responsibility for the party’s humiliating defeat in the Assembly by-elections caused a huge void to fill in.
After 3 months of deliberations, especially the caste equations in the faction-ridden party, the Congress high command in mid-March pitched for Shivakumar, its troubleshooter, who rose from the ranks to become a strong leader in the politically dominant Vokkaliga community across the state.
Shivakumar, 58, is a 7-time legislator from the Kanakapura assembly segment, about 60km south of Bengaluru. His younger brother D.K. Suresh is the party’s Lok Sabha member from the Bangalure Rural seat for the second time.
Covid-19 induced lockdown and its extension delayed Shivakumar from taking charge as president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) along with three working presidents – Eshwar Khandre, Sameer Ahmed and Satish Jarkiholi.
“The Congress high command is betting on Shivakumar to bring the party back to power in the state after the next Assembly elections, due in 2023. The onerous task is cut out for him, as he has to take on a formidable BJP, which consolidated its position by securing a majority in the lower House through its time-tested operation kamala strategy,” a political analyst told IANS here.
Though the BJP will be gunning for him as a tainted politician who was arrested and jailed in money laundering and tax evasion cases during 2017-19, Shivakumar remains unfazed in view of his popularity as a mass leader with huge resources and as one of the richest ‘netas’ in the country.
“Knowing my strength and capabilities, the BJP and its governments at the state and centre tried to finish me off politically by misusing the enforcement agencies and sending me to jail though I did not commit any offence. I am not afraid of anyone,” thundered Shivakumar on July 2 while addressing the party’s leaders and cadres across the state through video-conferencing.
With the backing of party president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi, Shivakumar is upbeat on galvanising the Congress in the state by rebuilding it from the booth level, a strategy the BJP mastered over the years to win elections at the hustings across the country.
“The high command assessed Shivakumar’s popularity and the following in the party after he returned to Bengaluru on October 26, 2019 from New Delhi on release from Tihar jail to a rousing welcome from the airport to the party office in the city centre and the protests that were held across the state against his arrest in Delhi early September in 2019,” the analyst recalled.
The party leaders are also of the view that by projecting Shivakumar as the chief ministerial candidate in the next Assembly elections, it will be able to get more Vokkaliga votes, especially in the old Mysuru region, where it lost badly in the 2018 Assembly elections to the JD-S, which is a Vokkaliga-dominant party in its traditional bastions.
Taking over the reins of the party’s state unit, Shivakumar vowed to bring the Congress back to power in the state with the support of its leaders and cadres.
“Though it’s the high command, which names the chief minister after the Assembly elections in the event of winning the mandate, the party’s state unit president is favoured for the top executive post, as in the case of S.M. Krishna and Dharam Singh who became Chief Ministers after leading the party in the elections in the past,” said party leader M.A. Saleem.
(Fakir Balaji can be reached at [email protected])