For the Congress party, the Karnataka elections have shaped up in a way that not many recent state elections have. After a long time in the history of the party, a regional satrap has risen, and risen tall almost dwarfing the Congress leadership, read Rahul Gandhi. Victory or loss, will be the CM’s and the CM’s alone.
But the man who is king, may well be dethroned soon. As various opinion polls suggest, if the elections deliver a hung verdict with the Congress as the single largest party, the Congress will find it tough to keep Siddaramaiah as the face of the government. Given the fact that Siddaramaiah has had scant respect for the JD(S) in the past, it is likely that the JD(S) would not want anything to do with Siddaramaiah. In fact, Kumaraswamy is reported to have said that Siddaramaiah will remain neither the CM nor the MLA after the elections. Siddaramaiah has returned the compliment by alleging that the JD(S) is probably funded by the BJP. Given the animosity, the Congress will have to knuckle down and project someone else as the CM candidate if they want to have any power-sharing deal with the JD(S).
Let’s look at what made Siddaramaiah the leader he is today. In a party that brazenly promotes “High Command Culture” and frowns on any ambitious regional leadership, Siddaramaiah has grown in stature in his own right. Some would say not because of his party, but despite his party. Why do a miniscule section of the media still consider that Karnataka 2.0 is still possible under Siddaramaiah? His development record is nothing to write home about, as even his most loyal supporters will concede. Allegations of corruption have been thrown at the CM but he seems to be unfazed by it. What he has done right, is standing up to the BJP triumvirate of Modi-Shah-BSY, and seen as holding his ground. Point by point, issue by issue, he has been able to respond in kind to all that the trio has thrown at him. He has looked to play on the Kannadiga pride by demanding primacy to Kannada language and a flag for the state – making sure the Congress is seen as firmly on the side of the Kannadigas. In all this, Siddaramaiah is seen as his own man, not waiting for clearance or approval from the Central leadership.
Given the “High Command” culture in the Congress party, this is a situation that is less than acceptable to the party. The difference between the BJP and the Congress, at least In this respect, could not be more stark. While the BJP let the regional leaders own their states and become synonymous with the leadership there – Shivraj Chauhan, Dr. Raman Singh, Vijay Rupani, Manohar Parrikar, Vasundararaje Scindia, and most recently Yogi Adityanath, the Congress has been seen as jittery when it comes to trusting regional leadership. A case in point is the recent anointment of the old warhorse Kamal Nath as the President of the Madhya Pradesh Congress, as opposed to Jyotiraditya Scindia – who was seen as the frontrunner as he had delivered three by election victories.
Whether the Congress leadership likes it or not, Siddaramaiah has a pride of place in the party, at least till the result day. May 15 could decide whether Siddaramaiah is an asset to the party, or a millstone.