Inside track by Coomi Kapoor: Clout, but clouted

Why did the Congress unnecessarily prolong the messy tussle in naming the Karnataka chief minister, even after the three observers, Jitendra Singh, Deepak Bawaria and Sushil Kumar Shinde, reported that the majority of the MLAs had backed Siddaramiah?

karnataka, karnataka asembly
Newly sworn-in Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar arrive at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru on Saturday. (PTI Photo)

Why did the Congress unnecessarily prolong the messy tussle in naming the Karnataka chief minister, even after the three observers, Jitendra Singh, Deepak Bawaria and Sushil Kumar Shinde, reported that the majority of the MLAs had backed Siddaramiah? Instead of declaring Siddaramiah’s name, the Congress dithered, first claiming that the MLAs had authorised the party president to decide on the chief ministership. Then a proposal to rotate the CM’s post with a half term to each contender was floated. At one point, even party president Mallikarjun Kharge’s name was suggested as the compromise candidate. The wealthy D K Shivakumar has many IOUs and powerful backers and was confident that he would win eventually. He threw in the towel only when he discovered to his shock that Sonia Gandhi, who he believed was on his side, stayed back in Shimla and asked him to speak to Rahul in Delhi. By digging in his heels, Shivakumar realised that he could lose his biggest plus point, his reputation that he was always ready to sacrifice for ‘The Family’. While reluctantly accepting deputy chief ministership, Shivakumar’s supporters still whisper privately that they have it in writing that their man will get the CM’s job after two and a half years. A system which never worked in practice, as T S Singh Deo and Sachin Pilot learnt to their cost in Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan respectively.

Fall from grace

In legal circles it is speculated that Kiren Rijiju’s fall from grace and abrupt removal as law minister is because of the deepening divide between the government and the judiciary. The only debate is whether Rijiju got into trouble for adopting an overtly aggressive and adversarial role or because he had failed to persuade the judiciary to be more accommodating. But well-informed political circles have a more specific and unrelated explanation.

Also read: Inside track by Coomi Kapoor: Shah of North-East

Failed experiment

While Basavaraj Bommai is being made the fall guy for the BJP’s disastrous show in Karnataka, it is B L Santhosh, the powerful general secretary (organistion) loaned to the party from the RSS, who should shoulder a major share of the blame. Santhosh wanted to revamp the state BJP in tune with the Sangh ideology and his personal likes and dislikes. His strategy of replacing seasoned, popular caste politicians with light weight favourites who spouted hardcore Hindutva boomeranged. The optics of Santhosh, a Brahmin, pitted against the Congress’s Malikarjun Kharge, a Dalit, also did not help. The BJP won only 14 of the 75 new candidates it fielded, and by denying tickets to 18 of its sitting MLAs, triggered dissidence and a mini exodus. The cost of humiliating and sidelining Lingayat leader B S Yediyurappa was evident. Even in the Lok Sabha constituencies of the Hindutva posterboys, Pratap Simha and Nalin Kateel, the BJP performed worse than in the last Assembly election. The BJP lost 39 of the 51 SC/ST seats despite its promised quota hike to SCs. While one of Santhosh’s acolytes described the Karnataka defeat as “a temporary setback” and part of a long-term strategy’’, it is unlikely that Santhosh will have the luxury of being given time to continue the experiment. After realising that J P Nadda and Santosh, who occupy the BJP’s top two organisational posts, have lost the party its lead position in their respective home states of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, a realistic Narendra Modi is unlikely to rely on them in 2024. He is expected to depend on his tried and trusted lieutenant Amit Shah to deliver victory.

Also read: Inside track by Coomi Kapoor

PM’s big push

The BJP was not unaware that it was on a weak wicket in Karnataka, so why did Narendra Modi risk his reputation for infallibility by pulling out all stops and holding19 rallies, nine road shows and five events in the last 11 days of the campaign? The buzz is that though Modi was conscious that the Congress was ahead, he hoped with his own popularity ratings, relentless campaigning and re-injecting the Hindutva message he could change the dynamics sufficiently for the BJP to be a player in a likely hung Assembly. In which eventuality the BJP was past master at cobbling together a coalition government. Perhaps, another reason why the prime minister campaigned valiantly till the very end was because he was thinking also in terms of the Lok Sabha elections where Karnataka’s contribution will be important in ensuring the BJP an absolute majority. It is noteworthy that at most of Modi’s rallies the local Assembly candidates were not on the dais, but the party MPs were usually present when the PM spoke.

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First published on: 21-05-2023 at 04:15 IST