"Many felt that my political career had ended after the BJP targeted me, but it didn't", DK Shivakumar told the crowd.

DK Shivakumar takes charge as KPCC chief party members log on from 7800 locations for event
news Politics Thursday, July 02, 2020 - 15:58

It was not quite the swearing-in ceremony DK Shivakumar would have imagined when he was made the President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) in March. There was no rally with thousands of cheering Congress workers, there were no massive celebrations on the streets. 

Instead, a small swearing in event with around 150 attendees, including senior Congress leaders and officials in Bengaluru, was held at the party office on Queen’s Road in the city. Smaller events were held in as many as 7800 locations in Karnataka with more than 30,000 party members connected via video conference, a Congress official said. 

Addressing party leaders and workers in Bengaluru, Shivakumar referenced that the swearing in ceremony was the start of the party’s rebuilding process in Karnataka. “We should change the Congress in Karnataka to a cadre-based party. I have suggested implementing the Kerala model which says that even the biggest leaders should first represent the booth level and we are initiating programmes for this,” DK Shivakumar said.

Shivakumar knows that he faces a herculean task ahead as the state Congress chief. It was less than a year ago that Shivakumar was released from Tihar jail after he was accused by the Enforcement Directorate in a money-laundering case. “Many felt that my political career had ended after the BJP targeted me. Sonia Gandhi came to the jail I was in and spoke to me for an hour and assured that she was with me. She has now made me stand here as a party worker and I take this role as my duty.,” DK Shivakumar said. 

In a half-hour address, Shivakumar stressed on collective leadership to help Congress return to power in the state. “Joining together is the beginning, thinking together is the progress and working together is the success. I believe in working together and bringing everyone in the party together,” he said.

Before the oath-taking, a documentary on Shivakumar’s rise to becoming Karnataka’s Congress chief was shown starting with a young Shivakumar’s first electoral foray in 1985 when he went up against Janata Dal (Secular) supremo HD Deve Gowda and narrowly lost the election. “I was still a final year degree student when the Congress decided to give me a ticket. This is the connection I share with the Congress party,” Shivakumar said.

Shivakumar, currently the legislator of Kanakapura constituency, takes charge of the Congress at a time the party’s morale is low after two consecutive electoral failures, first in the 2018 Assembly elections, and then in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party managed to win 80 seats in 2018 but it was 42 less than the 122 seats it won in 2013, a mark of the party’s descent in Karnataka. 

Even though the Congress joined hands with the JD(S) to form a coalition government in Karnataka, the alliance lasted just over a year with frictions developing and as many as 17 MLAs of the alliance switching over to the BJP. 

In 2019, the Congress won just one of the 28 seats in the state. Bengaluru Rural MP DK Suresh, the brother of DK Shivakumar, was the lone leader to register a victory even as all other leaders including Mallikarjun Kharge, a nine-time MLA and two-time MP lost the elections. 

Lockdown restrictions

Due to the lockdown restrictions over the coronavirus outbreak, the oath-taking ceremony was delayed for months. Even when DK Shivakumar wanted to hold the event on June 7, the Karnataka government refused to allow political events, delaying the swearing in by another month. The Congress, managed to obtain permission for the event in mid-June and turned to technology to unite its party workers.

The oath-taking ceremony in Bengaluru was held in the new Congress block opened close to its main office in Bengaluru, and physical distancing norms were largely ignored here. The event in Bengaluru was also streamed live in Congress offices in the state where LED screens were put up for workers to view the event. The workers were also shown on the screens put up in the Bengaluru event alongside the party’s slogan under Shivakumar ‘New vision, new direction’.

It was DK Suresh and Vinay Karthik, a close associate of DK Shivakumar in the Congress, who put together the oath-taking ceremony event on Thursday. “This is a party building exercise and builds the party’s cadre. The idea is to unite the party workers in the state after the electoral defeats,” a Congress party member in Bengaluru told TNM.  

District and block-level leaders were directed to conduct oath-taking ceremonies in offices across the state. "We coordinated with district officials through zoom calls and tried to ensure that everyone was comfortable with the technology being used. They were reminded that they have to wear masks and maintain distancing with around 150 workers in each location," said a party member.

Before Shivakumar takes on the challenge of expanding the party’s base in Karnataka, he first hopes to unite the party’s cadre and build on the goodwill created by Thursday’s oath-taking event.