The Congress party, which had centered its very existence on Siddaramaiah over the last five years, is looking rudderless, floundering and bewildered.

Congress back to square 1 Latest free-for-all is typical of pre-Siddaramaiah era
news Opinion Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - 18:52

The latest crop of problems that the Congress party is facing in Karnataka, with internal dissensions and whispers of poaching by the BJP, is more typical of the grand old party, than the “unified” front under Siddaramaiah that functioned up to the Karnataka state Assembly elections in May.

Now, a free-for-all is on and many an MLA is out in the open, showing naked ambition and seeking as big a slice as possible of the power pie. All internal dissensions within the party, smoothened over for the elections, are raising their heads again, and the ongoing Jarkiholi-led revolt, basically over power equations within their district of Belagavi and personal differences over relationships, is just one bubble in the boiling pot. 

The Congress has always been known for its internal divisions and the old adage that the party is only defeated by itself has been true all these years. The recent Assembly elections were an exception, because there was a visible unified front within the party. The Congress members thought they might just come back to power, given that Siddaramaiah was in a ‘TINA’ (there is no alternative) position, and was perceived to be steering the party and the government well.

In a departure from the typical Congress situation, all his detractors and opponents – and he has plenty – were asked to keep silent. Almost all did. There were minor issues and damaging last-minute betrayals, but, by and large, the party stuck to Siddaramaiah’s gameplan and line. Also, as a senior party leader put it, “To be fair to Siddaramaiah, he did listen to all views and did not ride roughshod on what others said.”

Currently, the typical Congress man is a very unhappy person, just like Siddaramaiah, forced into an “unnatural” alliance, particularly in south Karnataka, with their main rivals, the JD(S). They are in a subservient position, forced to toe the JD(S) line and watch the party, which got less than half the number of seats that they did, lord it over them.

The opposition BJP, which could not form the government despite being the single-largest party with 104 seats, is naturally upset with what it and all its supporters see as a "live-in" relationship between the JD(S) and Congress. The party is making all efforts to benefit from and exploit the unhappiness that exists within the Congress and, to a lesser extent, within the JD(S) over the arrangement and change the maths. And those denied power in the form of ministries and government posts, are ripe for picking, especially because this arrangement is, at best, shaky.

The cooperative facade within the Congress ended the minute the party failed to cross 78 seats in the recent elections. The party does admit, sadly, that it was only because of Siddaramaiah that they got to this figure, the highest that any incumbent party has won in Karnataka right from 1983 (the exception being the BJP winning 110 seats in 2008, due to the sympathy factor generated for BS Yeddyurappa after the JD(S) did not extend the promised support to him). Still, the Congress fell 35 seats short of a simple majority, Siddaramaiah lost his home seat Chamundeshwari very badly and turned into the party fall guy.

He was given respect and indirect support by Rahul Gandhi, and was not literally shown the door, again atypical of the Congress party. But the knives did come out, beginning with former Speaker KB Koliwad calling Siddaramaiah an “egoist” who “sank” the party. Others murmured, some spoke in party fora, leading to Siddaramaiah shedding tears in the first legislature party meeting after the results.

Siddaramaiah, a shadow of what he was just four months ago, has strangely not displayed either the  wisdom nor the caution that characterized his nearly four-decade-long political career. He has made off-the-cuff remarks, some misinterpreted, some wilful, about becoming the state’s Chief Minister again, despite his grudging public support to the current JD(S)-Congress coalition government in the state under HD Kumaraswamy.

The Congress party, which had centered its very existence on Siddaramaiah over the last five years, is looking rudderless, floundering and bewildered. Deputy CM G Parameshwara, after the endlessly long eight-year stint as the party’s state unit president, is more focussed on government work while the incumbent, Dinesh Gundu Rao, is still settling into the job.

Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) is in the unenviable position of having to depend on Siddaramaiah, after much public derision between them in public, to save his government. Siddaramaiah has done it so far, without enthusiasm, bound by Rahul Gandhi’s diktat. And most of the Congress party is still taking its cue from Siddaramaiah, and putting away its distress and discomfort to get on with the job.

But it is certainly a ticking bomb. Many a politician, pundit and common man is predicting that the Congress party’s patience and “unity” in supporting the coalition government in Karnataka will last only until May 2019 or earlier, whenever the next Lok Sabha elections are held.

Views expressed are the author's own.

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