Siddaramaiah's bruised ego fomenting trouble in Karnataka, but Rahul fails to see through ex-CM's persona

As Karnataka plunges into crisis after crisis, threatening the Congress and Janata Dal(Secular) coalition government and the state's own so-called mahagathbandhan against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), what comes to mind is an ancient Sanskrit saying: vinashe kale, viparita buddhi. This means that when one nears one's doom, one gets bizarre ideas.

In Karnataka's case, these ideas and the threat of doom for Congress originate from one single man with mind-boggling regularity: former chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Rahul Gandhi has all along known how important Siddaramaiah is but the Congress chief is unsure of what to do with the backward Kuruba caste leader. Rahul gave Siddaramaiah an unofficial license to take complete charge of the party's affairs in Karnataka, but takes it away from him and returns it as and when the former chief minister wishes. With no clue as to where he stands in the party, Siddaramaiah makes and unmakes troubles.

As this goes on, the result is a continuing mess in Karnataka Congress. Barely had the coalition government recovered from the BJP's yet another attempt to destabilise it two weeks ago, the alliance went headlong on Monday into yet another crisis that threatens its existence, months before the Lok Sabha elections. It's difficult to even imagine that Rahul doesn't notice how things are getting from bad to worse for his party in the southern state.

Siddaramaiahs bruised ego fomenting trouble in Karnataka, but Rahul fails to see through ex-CMs persona

Rahul Gandhi has all along known how important Siddaramaiah is but the Congress chief is unsure of what to do with the backward Kuruba caste leader. PTI

Once again we have Siddaramaiah letting everybody know how indispensable he is for Congress and how he alone is the key to the coalition's fate. Once again, we have chief minister HD Kumaraswamy threatening to quit. Karnataka's own mahagathbandhan looks as though it is going to implode, just the away it did in Andhra Pradesh where the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party have decided to fight elections separately.

But what's new in Karnataka's nataka, where the alliance has been crisis ridden from day one, getting sucked into the quicksand of a greedy power and ego war deeper by the day?

For the first time, Siddaramaiah allowed four associates on Sunday to publicly affirm loyalty to him, declare he would have been a better chief minister and make caustic remarks against Kumaraswamy's performance. Though Congress state unit president Dinesh Gundu Rao was quick to serve a show-cause notice on one of them, but the damage was done. So far, it has only been whispered and speculated that Siddaramaiah is the man rocking the boat. Now it's out in the open. That's what is new.

And that has made Kumaraswamy jumpy like never before, and he was prompt in threatening to resign as chief minister.

But what's new about Kumaraswamy making noises about quitting, you might ask. In the past, Kumaraswamy wept in public, threw up hands in despair over heading an uneasy coalition, said he was drinking poison "like Lord Shiva", said he had been reduced to being a "clerk" and, of course, said he would resign and go home if necessary. But in the past, it was just a threat in passing. On Monday, Kumaraswamy spoke at length when as he brought up his resignation.

It looks unlikely at the moment that Kumaraswamy will make good on his threat and sacrifice power. Yet at the same time, if the situation is allowed to continue in this fashion, the possibility of the JD(S) leader deciding that the struggle to keep his job is not worth the trouble can't be completely ruled out.

Siddaramaiah's problem

When the Karnataka coalition was stitched together in a hurry eight months ago to keep the BJP out of power after the Assembly elections, Siddaramaiah was forced to accept Kumaraswamy as the chief minister. The trouble wasn't simply that JD(S) had only half as many Assembly seats as Congress. The real problem, or at least a good part of it, is the fact that Kumaraswamy is the son of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, Siddaramaiah's one-time mentor and current arch rival.

For public appearances, Siddaramaiah had no choice but to accept Kumaraswamy's choice, because Rahul sang paeans to the coalition. Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and admirers of the Congress hailed it as a precursor to a magnificent pan-India mahagathbandhan and even began to write Modi's political obituaries.

Rahul may have thought it was a political masterstroke on his part when he appointed Siddaramaiah as the head of a coordination committee which was meant to ensure the coalition functioning was smooth. Rahul even let it be known that he took decisions always in consultation with the former chief minister. Siddaramaiah used his exalted status in the party to provide one pinprick after another to Kumaraswamy as well as his rivals within Congress, notably deputy chief minister G Parameshwara and minister DK Shivakumar.

When a frustrated Kumaraswamy began to sidestep Siddaramaiah and established his own direct channel of communication with Rahul and central leaders of Congress, things took a turn for the worse. This made Siddaramaiah feel he was dispensable, and he did the only thing he could do from his point of view: he began to prove he was indispensable by stoking dissidence.

Siddaramaiah has another problem: the belief he has in himself as a leader and the lack of it in others around him make it impossible for him to be part of any political arrangement of which he is not its autocratic head.

Dealing with a complex party like Congress, which has leaders at each other's throats always, needs a leader who is either strong or who has the skill to walk the tightrope-or both. Rahul has proved he is neither. The Congress president may have heard of politics making strange bedfellows, but he should also know that certain old enmities in politics, especially of the kind that exists between Siddaramaiah and the Gowda family, die hard. He should learn to spot daggers drawn behind veneers of cosy appearances.

To begin with, Rahul must come to grips with the fact that it's Siddaramaiah's bruised ego which is at the epicentre of the trouble and he must deal with it accordingly-or let others who can deal with it do that job.

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Jan 30, 2019 10:09:31 IST

Also See