MB Patil's disenchantment with Karnataka Congress should set alarm bells ringing for Rahul Gandhi
MB Patil, the tallest Lingayat leader within the Congress party now, is miffed that he is not part of the political leadership in HD Kumaraswamy's dispensation.
Meeting a disgruntled MB Patil would have given Rahul Gandhi a sense of déjà vu on Saturday. After all, it was his late father Rajiv Gandhi's snubbing of Veerendra Patil, the chief minister of Karnataka in 1990, that caused much resentment among the Lingayat community for the Congress party. Rajiv Gandhi had replaced an ailing Veerendra Patil with S Bangarappa, brusquely making the announcement at the airport. The community moved away from the Congress and till date, is considered the core vote base of the BJP. That was reason enough for the Congress chief to handle MB Patil with kid gloves.
MB Patil, the tallest Lingayat leader within the Congress party now and the brain behind the decision to accord it separate religion status, is miffed that he is not part of the political leadership in HD Kumaraswamy's dispensation. He was eyeing the deputy chief minister's position and was appalled that leave alone the number two position, he did not even get a ministerial berth. Patil, who was the water resources minister in the Siddaramaiah government, blew the bugle of revolt and made it known that at least 15 disgruntled legislators are rallying behind him. Several former ministers like HK Patil, Roshan Baig, Ramalinga Reddy are miffed at being shunned as well.
What got Patil's goat was that his rival in the Congress, Shivananda Patil, was made the health minister. The Kumaraswamy Cabinet has four Lingayat ministers and therefore, the move to drop MB Patil seems deliberate.
The question that is being asked is whether MB Patil paid the price for his proximity to Siddaramaiah, who despite being the leader of the Congress Legislature party, is no longer the force he was before the elections. A humiliating defeat on his home turf of Chamundeshwari and a victory by a whisker in Badami has dented Siddaramaiah's political clout. It is G Parameshwara, the deputy chief minister and incumbent PCC chief whose stock has gone up within the Congress.
The impression being created is that Patil's entry would annoy the Lingayats as a large part of the community chose to stick to the BJP despite the Congress sop. Patil's aggressive move of dividing the Lingayats and Veerashaivas is spoken of as the reason why the Congress did not fare as well as in 2013 in north Karnataka, which is Lingayat territory.
That is not entirely true. The 2013 performance was made possible only because of the split in the BJP vote, with BS Yeddyurappa contesting separately. The Lingayat community has traditionally stayed with the BJP and Yeddyurappa, and this time was no different.
In fact, compared to 2013, when Patil won by a margin of less than 5,000 votes, his personal winning margin in Babaleshwar constituency this time was 30,000 votes. This is proof that his personal popularity had only shot up after being seen as the architect of the decision. Moreover, 17 of the 47 Lingayat candidates put up by the Congress won, a decent 36 percent. This is the largest community-wise bloc within the CLP, more than the 14 Vokkaligas and 14 OBCs.
The efforts by the Karnataka Congress leaders, including Parameshwara, to mollify Patil did not bear fruit. With things getting out of hand, Kumaraswamy in a bid to save his government rushed to Patil's residence to request him not to precipitate matters. The Congress was not pleased with this interference by the JD(S) in its internal affairs but it was only then that New Delhi took the call to summon Patil. Kumaraswamy himself was not pleased at having to run around because of the Congress' inability to control dissidence when all he wanted was to run his government.
Congress leaders suggest the high command wanted some of those who had served as ministers earlier to make way for fresh blood. Clearly, none of this was conveyed to the senior lot, who gave vent to their ire the moment the bomb was dropped on them. It shows that after the elections, no one is quite in charge of the goings-on in the Karnataka Congress to manage the delicate situation.
Reports suggest that Rahul Gandhi has promised to accommodate Patil in the next round of Cabinet expansion, but the deputy chief minister's post seems out of the question. The Congress leadership is convinced Patil is a career Congressman and won't desert the party, despite the differences.
But it is precisely these fissures within the Congress that the BJP would like to exploit. The ruling coalition can hardly afford to ignore the fact that the BJP with 104 legislators remains within kissing distance of the Vidhan Soudha.
History also will tell Rahul not to take Patil's threat lightly. In 1969, when the Congress split, Patil's father BM Patil deserted the Syndicate and walked out with Indira Gandhi. The Congress(O) subsequently lost power in Karnataka in the next Assembly elections.
Apart from a berth in the ministry, the PCC chief post is also up for grabs as Parameshwara is now a minister. Bengaluru strongman Dinesh Gundu Rao who too has not made it into the Cabinet, is in the race to get the top job in the party in Karnataka. But in a style typical of the way Congress plays its politics, the possibility of the post going now to a Lingayat has not been ruled out. Either way, there will be disgruntlement in the ranks.
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