“We, the politicians of Karnataka, are responsible for denying Kharge the Chief Minister’s post,” Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy said in an emotional speech at Chincholi in Kalaburgi district on Wednesday.
Taking a veiled dig at the Congress, Kumaraswamy said that Congress MP from Kalaburgi, Mallikarjun Kharge, should have become the Chief Minister long ago.
“Mallikarjun Kharge should have become the Chief Minister long ago. I feel that injustice has happened with him. I would like to clearly state that even I feel that Kharge has not been given recognition for all the work he has done,” Kumaraswamy said.
As shocking as the Chief Minister’s words may seem, Kumaraswamy’s statement comes in the heels of monumental changes that are currently underway in the Congress-JD(S) coalition government. A week ago, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s supporters openly called for installing him as the CM of Karnataka, thereby causing the rift between the Congress and JD(S) to grow wider.
Congress insiders say that over 40 MLAs, who support Siddaramaiah are already working towards withdrawing support from the coalition. Amidst such turbulent times, Kumaraswamy’s statement can only be seen as a way to portray the Congress as anti-Dalit.
“By saying that Kharge deserves to be the CM, Kumaraswamy is essentially telling the people of Hyderabad-Karnataka region (a stronghold of the Congress) that the party does not want to install a person from the Dalit community as the Chief Minister. Kumaraswamy is thinking ahead and ensuring that in case the coalition fails, he can damage the Congress’ image in the eyes of the Dalit community,” the Congress source said.
However, a JD(S) insider says that Kumaraswamy’s statement also comes as a reminder of the post-poll scenario in 2004 and 2018 when the Congress had denied Kharge a shot at becoming the CM. In 2004, when the Assembly was hung in Karnataka, the Congress and JD(S) forged an alliance where the late Dharam Singh was made the CM and Siddaramaiah, who was then in the JD(S) was the Deputy CM. In 2018, when the two parties came to power, the Congress had a choice of making Kharge the CM or relinquishing it to the JD(S).
“Kumaraswamy is just reminding people that a Dalit leader, who is more experienced that Siddaramaiah was side-lined. Besides, Kharge was one of the people who was for the coalition in Karnataka. He is the one who maintains the balance between the feuding Congress leaders. For the JD(S), his support is crucial,” the source said.
With the grand old party’s cadre unwilling to work for the alliance, the Congress is facing a dilemma – risk re-election or lose carefully cultivated cadre.
“JD(S) has called for a legislative party meeting on May 24 so they can blame the Congress for its failures. The Congress LP meeting will be held ahead of JD(S)’s. Top leaders have already planned how they will withdraw support and are also poaching JD(S) MLAs. In such a situation, Kumaraswamy can only rely on Kharge to change the high command’s mind,” the source added.