To resolve Karnataka crisis, Congress must first rein in Siddaramaiah, but his clout in state may overpower Rahul Gandhi's own

  • Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah held a meeting of Karnatkaa MLAs on Monday in Bengaluru.

  • Siddaramaiah is believed to be behind the discord in the Congress in the state.

  • Rahul Gandhi has yet to speak up on the crisis his party is facing in Karnataka.

The 'nataka' (drama) in Karnataka, as a few TV channels have put it, continues with Congress MLAs coming to blows at the Eagleton resort in the outskirts of Bengaluru, where party legislators have been put up to stave off the BJP's alleged poaching attempts. Late on Saturday night, Kampi MLA JN Ganesh allegedly hit Vijayanagara MLA Anand Singh on his head with a liquor bottle after a heated argument reportedly over Ganesh wanting to defect to the BJP.

The Congress has yet to realise that it at least needs to get its story straight before multiple party leaders make varying claims to the media. Although Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar and Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara both denied the news, another senior leader claimed that Anand was admitted to hospital with chest pain and another claiming that the argument was over business deals as the two MLAs were from the same district.

The Congress doesn't — or maybe it does and doesn't know what to do about it — realise that it's harming its own image with this resort politics. Instead of laying the blame on the BJP and reiterating time and again that BS Yeddyurappa was orchestrating another 'Operation Lotus', the party first needs to bring an end to the petty infighting.

 To resolve Karnataka crisis, Congress must first rein in Siddaramaiah, but his clout in state may overpower Rahul Gandhis own

The Congress and the JD(S) are bracing for a friendly fight at the urban local body polls on Friday.

To address this very issue, former Karnataka chief minister and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Siddaramaiah held a meeting of MLAs on Monday in Bengaluru. He had called for the meeting after reports of the supposed brawl at the resort. The party had also issued notices to four of its MLAs on Sunday, asking why action should not be taken against them under the anti-defection law for not attending the CLP meeting on Friday, which was called to ensure that the Congress flock was intact amid reports that a few had switched camps to the BJP.

Here, we can highlight former Karnataka chief minister and current Union minister DV Sadananda Gowda's statement on Siddaramaiah: "Siddaramaiah, who is pretending to be a peacemaker in the JD(S)-Congress coalition, has also been trying to destabilise the government. The current political drama has led to instability in state politics. People don't know what the chief minister is doing, and the development of the state is at stake. However, the situation is in favour of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy."

"Congress leaders are fighting among themselves, and Kumaraswamy is not in a position to perform his duties. In fact, Siddaramaiah is not allowing the chief minister to perform well," Gowda had said.

With this, he put in words what no other political leader has so far on the crisis in Karnataka. It is no secret that Siddaramaiah has been bitter since losing not only the chief minister's seat, but also his constituency in the May 2018 Assembly elections. Add to that his displeasure over the Congress ceding more power to the JD(S) than he would have preferred, it remains an open secret in the state that Kumaraswamy's repeated breakdowns are a result of Siddaramaiah's interference in the functioning of the government and use of his clout to ensure that the chief minister is undermined.

Besides, Siddaramaiah's discontent with the Congress-JD(S) tie-up and his hostility towards Kumaraswamy — starting with criticising the JD(S) leader for presenting a full-fledged budget after assuming office to expressing doubts about how long the coalition government would survive in Karnataka — goes back to the Congress leader's days in the JD(S), where he felt that JD(S) chief and former prime minister Deve Gowda did not give him his due.

Also in the equation is the enmity between Siddaramaiah and Congress "troubleshooter" DK Shivakumar. Firstpost had earlier noted how the infighting in the Congress, and not the BJP, could lead to the party's downfall in Karnataka.

Rahul Gandhi's silence isn't helping

While Siddaramaiah's influence is evident in Karnataka politics, Congress president Rahul Gandhi's silence over the political turmoil in the state party unit is even more so. Not usually one to hold back, Rahul often takes to Twitter to share a witty remark targeting the prime minister or the BJP over one thing or the other. Now, when his party is in disarray in a state that's likely to play a key role in the Lok Sabha election, Rahul has chosen to keep mum.

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This silence may cost the Congress the state of Karnataka. That the JDS-Congress coalition is hanging by a thread is obvious, no matter how many times and in how many ways the parties dismiss the reports, but Rahul, who was instrumental in stitching the alliance together needs to step in now.

Senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and KC Venugopal are at the scene of the discontent in Karnataka, but they have neither been able to rein in the Congress MLAs unhappy with the party, nor anti-Kumaraswamy Siddaramaiah. Rahul may not have the political experience of Kharge and Venugopal, but he does hold the title of Congress president. So far, he has failed to use this to his leverage and bring an end to the crisis in Karnataka, but it may be time.

Of course, there's the threat that MLAs not take lightly to a show of power and could turn to reality allegations of the BJP's poaching attempts. But that may be a risk Rahul would have to take.

Now tackling Siddaramaiah is the bigger concern. His clout is undeniable, and the risk of him turning against the party is not one the Congress can take. Mediating negotiations between him and Kumaraswamy and ensuring that the two reach a compromise might be the only way to pacify a disgruntled Siddaramaiah and save the rocky coalition with JDS to retain power in the state.

Observers can now only wait and see what route Rahul and his Congress choose to take in Karnataka — the Siddaramaiah way, or the highway.

Updated Date: Jan 21, 2019 19:57:42 IST