In the last two years, Congress leader DK Shivakumar has often been described as the strongman of the Congress party. However, up against him, within his own party, is a formidable opponent, former Home Minister MB Patil. Both Patil and Shivakumar are vying for the post of the KPCC President. And it's no secret that MB Patil, one of the few Lingayat leaders in the Congress has the full support of another important leader countering DK Shivakumar: former CM Siddaramaiah.
The battle for the post of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President has brought to fore a rivalry that began brewing in 2018, when the issue of a separate Lingayat religion was at its peak.
A brainchild of Siddaramaiah, the movement for a separate Lingayat religion was supported by his loyalist MB Patil ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls.
Siddaramaiah’s move failed. The Congress lost a sizable number of seats during the Assembly elections and the Lingayat community blamed Siddaramaiah for trying divide the community. In October of 2018, a controversy erupted when DK Shivakumar apologized to the Lingayat community for his party’s move to demand a separate religion status.
A row erupted in the Congress with Shivakumar on one side and Siddaramaiah and Patil on the other. Shivakumar considered Patil his political rival as he had Siddaramaiah’s support and was viewed as the man being groomed to take up the post of the KPCC President.
“Shivakumar’s apology put a permanent black mark on MB Patil’s reputation. It was as if the Congress had openly accused Siddaramaiah and MB Patil of ruining any chance the party had of luring the Lingayat community into its fold,” the source said.
This, party sources say, was an open rebellion by DK Shivakumar. From becoming the strongman who stopped MLAs from party hopping, to making emotionally charged speeches in the Assembly, DK Shivakumar was also positioning himself as the man who could save a failing party.
Shivakumar positioning himself as the one to unite Vokkaligas
DK Shivakumar is consolidating support within the party by floating the idea that he is the Vokkaliga face, who can bring all sects of the community together. "Just like how SM Krishna had consolidated power, DKS has proposed to bring all sects of this community together. He has also come up with strategies to unite various disgruntled communities that Siddaramaiah had neglected. Since Patil is a Lingayat and the two communities have been at loggerheads for decades, the wedge between Shivakumar and Patil has grown deeper,” the source added.
Vokkaligas are traditionally a land-owning class in southern Karnataka and is a dominant community in the state. The Vokkaliga community has a huge presence in Mandya, Hassan, Mysuru, Bengaluru Rural, Tumakuru, Kolar, Chikkaballapura and Chikkamagaluru districts.
There is also sizable population of the community in Chitradurga, Shivamogga, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. While the Lingayat community has traditionally aligned itself with the BJP, it was the pro-poor policies of Devaraj Urs and subsequent Congress chiefs in Karnataka that drove Vokkaligas to back the Janata Party in the late 1980s and 1990s. During this time, all the sub groups had backed the Janata Party and subsequently the JD(S). However, with the JD(S) losing its power gradually in the state, various sects of the community began backing Congress and BJP too.
The Gangadikar, Dasa, Marsu, Kunchitgas and Arebasi Vokkaligas, and the Bunt community were once a consolidated group. With the BJP emerging powerful in Mysuru and other parts of Southern Karnataka, several sects gradually began shifting allegiances. While Arebasi Vokkaligas and Bunts supported the BJP in coastal Karnataka and Kodagu, the Kunchitigas, Das and Marsu Vokkaligas, who had supported the Congress shifted allegiance to BJP and this was evident in the 2018 elections results, Congress sources say.
Shivakumar is now positioning himself as the one who can lure the vote bank towards the Congress and hence, is a likely candidate for the post of KPCC President, the source added.