Two influential Congress leaders representing two major communities in Karnataka have taken differing stands on the telephone tapping controversy, even as the sentiment within the grand old party towards former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy — who has been accused of ordering the surveillance of prominent political figures — is one of hurt and anger.
Considered the Congress' moneybags and acknowledged for their loyalty and organisational capacity, former ministers DK Shivakumar and MB Patil have chosen to take a different stand from their colleagues. Patil, who was home minister in Kumaraswamy's government hedged his bets as to whether the alleged phone tapping occurred, while Shivakumar, a former water resources minister, categorically stated that no such eavesdropping took place.
The telephone tapping controversy in Karnataka, which initially started as an audio leak of a purported telephone conversation — the authenticity of which has not been confirmed — between a senior police officer and a power broker for the Bengaluru police commissioner's post, is not only opening up fissures in the Congress, but is also causing a rift between the grand old party and its coalition partner the JD(S).
This isn't the first time Patil and Shivakumar have been at odds with their colleagues. The question of giving a separate, independent status to the Lingayat community in Karnataka, which constitutes 17 percent of the state's population (some reports peg it at 22 percent) by the former Siddaramaiah government resulted in a verbal duel between the two.
In October, 2018, campaigning for the Ballari Lok Sabha bypoll, Shivakumar dropped a bombshell by apologising with folded hands on behalf of the previous Congress government for supporting the Lingayats cause of seeking a separate identity. The former minister said no government should interfere in religion, caste or culture.
Rankled by the unsolicited apology on behalf of the erstwhile Siddaramaiah government, Patil in April said Shivakumar should not have interfered in the Lingayat issue and also advised him to focus on Vokkaliga-dominated areas of old Mysuru.
Speaking on Saturday, Patil said: "My stand as home minister in the Kumaraswamy government is that nothing on telephone tapping came to my notice. No police officer shared any such information with me. But let there be an inquiry into the veracity of the allegations that are being made of telephone conversations being intercepted."
Patil said he would be writing to Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa to order an inquiry with a three month deadline and to appoint honest officers to head the investigation in the matter of the alleged involvement of politicians. "It's not so easy to tap telephones after the former chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde wire tapping scandal. Hegde stepped down after taking moral responsibility and based on his belief in value-based politics,'' Patil maintained.
Meanwhile, Shivakumar once again reiterated on Saturday that no telephone tapping took place during Kumaraswamy's tenure. In Congress circles, Shivakumar's stand is being seen as the latter trying to position himself as a Vokkaliga leader in the party and also not try to antagonise JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda's family, with whom he mended fences during the 14 months of JD(S)-Congress government.
During the Mandya Lok Sabha constituency poll campaign for Kumaraswamy's son Nikhil, the former had likened them both — Kumaraswamy and Shivakumar — as jodettu (pair of bullocks).
It’s no secret that both Patil and Shivakumar consider themselves chief ministerial material and are front-runners for the top slots in the state Congress unit, if high command decides to have a Lingayat or a Vokkaliga.
In their 50s, which is considered young in politics, Shivakumar (58) and Patil (55) have much in common: they have run educational institutions, are chieftains in their respective domains of south and north Karnataka, and according to the affidavits filed during the 2018 Assembly polls, were among the country's richest ministers. They are also willing to bide their time to achieve their political goals.
Updated Date: Aug 19, 2019 07:54:46 IST