SM Krishna's resignation gives Karnataka Congress a fractured image ahead of battle with united BJP

The decision of SM Krishna, former Karnataka chief minister and India's external affairs minister, to leave the Congress party has surprised many of its party leaders particularly since he was "too old" for any assignment. In many ways, his decision expresses the frustration of the old guard which appears worried that the national party is being reduced to a regional outfit far from being a national party.

Krishna's decision has puzzled the closest of his associates, supporters and adversaries. More so, the timing of his decision. In his words, he felt slighted when he was told a couple of years ago that he was not being re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha. To him, a more graceful way would have been if Congress president Sonia Gandhi had told him it was time for someone else to take his place.

“Some take decisions like a flash light. I am a tubelight,” was his reply to a question at the news conference when asked why he took so long to leave the party that he considered his home for 46 years. The efforts of Central leaders like AK Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad to convince him to reverse his decision to quit the party, obviously failed, since Krishna went ahead to address the media and make a succinct political point. That the party “needs only managers and not time-tested leaders.”

The younger leaders in the Congress, some of whom only spoke on condition of anonymity, have disagreed with Krishna. They believe that Krishna had held the best of positions in the party and in government all through his career. One of them even said that there was no other position that the party could offer him. But, some of the senior leaders privately admit that Krishna was expressing an opinion that many of them have felt in the party for some time now.

Said one leader, who did not want to identified: “What he said was absolutely correct. There are ways and means of managing the current situation in Karnataka as well as elsewhere. It is not exactly positions that the older leaders are looking for. In modern parlance it can well be described as consultants who work pro bono.” What it means, in simple terms, is something that chief minister Siddaramaiah could have done to enhance the party's image.

 SM Krishnas resignation gives Karnataka Congress a fractured image  ahead of battle with united BJP

Former external affairs minister SM Krishna. AP

For instance, said another leader: “It is well known that Siddaramaiah is more focused on the rural sector than the urban sector. He could have very well asked Krishna to head the vision group for Bengaluru and told a couple of his ministers to work along with him. Krishna's work would have enhanced the image of the party among the people in Bengaluru because he has a good image in the state capital. More importantly, it could have also helped solve some of the city's major problems that have hurt the image of Siddaramaiah’s government.”

Said Prof Sandeep Shastri, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Jain University, and well known political analyst: “The state has lost out on an opportunity to have somebody who just wanted to be given the status of an elder statesman in the party. What he has done is clearly out of a sense of hurt that the party does not want to give credence to a leader of some stature, a leader with some support in urban areas.”

Prof Harish Ramaswamy of the political science department of Dharwad University said: “His departure from the Congress will hurt the party because he represents the clean image of the party. He was also the symbol of development in the Congress party given his record of making Bengaluru as the IT capital of India (during his tenure as chief minister between 1999-2004). Symbolically, it will hurt the image of the Congress in Karnataka.”

“With elections just a year away, the exit of a senior leader like Krishna is very unfortunate. This is the time for the Congress party to get all the important leaders of the party together, get them to pull up their sleeves to face the elections,” said H Hanumanthappa, former MP and senior leader of the party.

Not A Vote Puller But A Leader

Krishna leaving the party may not lead to a major swing in votes. Krishna hails from the Old Mysuru region where the dominant community is the upper caste group of Vokkaligas. It is well-known that he is never considered a leader of the Vokkaliga community like another octogenarian and leader of the Janata Dal (S) HD Deve Gowda.

“But, with his departure from the party, there is some amount of loss of stature for the Congress in this region and, at this point of time, everyone will agree that the party requires it most. The Congress also has no alternate Vokkaliga face. It will certainly help the Janata Dal," said Prof Muzaffar Assadi, former head of the department of political science, Mysore University.

Party leaders privately admit that Krishna may not have contributed much in arresting the growth of the JDS in the region. But, his departure will give a big handle for former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda to exploit the situation by pointing out how leaders from the Vokkaliga community are treated in a national party like the Congress.

The Old Mysuru region is crucial for the Congress for several reasons. After the recent passing away of Mahadev Prasad, who was a minister and a close associate of Siddaramaiah, the Congress party does not have a single candidate belonging to the other major caste group of Lingayats in about a dozen constituencies.

And, another associate of Siddaramaiah and an important Dalit leader, Srinivasa Prasad, has already joined the BJP. It means that the Congress has no major face among the Lingayats, the Vokkaligas and, to some extent, among the Dalits as well. That leaves the party wholly dependent on the support of the OBCs that Siddaramaiah's camp claims remains intact as in 2013 assembly elections.

Facing A United BJP

The challenge to the Congress also comes from the decision of the BJP president, Amit Shah, to back KS Eshwarappa's move to make a breakthrough in the OBC vote that the Congress has claimed control over. It means that the BJP will be making an all-out effort to break the backbone of the Congress among the OBCs and will not be wholly dependent upon the vote of the upper caste group to which BS Yeddyurappa, its state unit president and former chief minister, belongs.

In other words, every kind of a vote, whether on the lines of the caste axis or otherwise, is important to the Congress. And, in the current era, image management is bound to play as much a critical role for the Congress as for any other party.

"He (Krishna) commands respect among the middle and educated classes. This is the section which will be influenced by his decision. The perception that decent people have no place in politics will be further strengthened. The approach of this section of voters will also affect the morale of the party worker. To that extent, it is a loss to the party," said BL Shankar, an associate of Krishna and a former chairman of the legislative council.

It is, perhaps, in this context that the BJP's former party president and union minister, Sadananda Gowda, went on record to state that his party would heartily welcome Krishna if he intended to join.

Explains Prof Assadi: “In the BJP, LK Advani has practically retired and has been marginalised. The BJP leadership may not require him all the time but in the hour of need, his services can be utilised in some way or the other. If Advani resigns like Krishna has, the party stands to lose that image among that section of voters which has voted for it because of Advani. Krishna was an asset that had to be retained by the party for the future.”

Prof Shastri puts it most succinctly: “The present leadership of the Congress doesn’t understand the importance of ego massage.”

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2017 11:41:34 IST