Siddaramaiah mediates between Jarkiholis, DK Shivakumar: Looking for a comeback?
It was a moment of utmost embarrassment for former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah when he lost the Chamundeshwari seat to his sworn enemy – the JD(S) leader GT Deve Gowda.
The events that unfolded on the day the election results were announced in Karnataka set the stage for Siddaramaiah to lose his status as the power centre of the Congress party in Karnataka. Considered a formidable foe to many political leaders within and outside the Congress and a master strategist, he was reduced to waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to come his way.
Several veterans of the grand old party saw Siddaramaiah’s defeat as the only chance to climb up the ranks and turn themselves into mass leaders, with aspirations to become the party’s next Chief Ministerial candidate.
One among them emerged the strongest – Water Resource Minister DK Shivakumar. One of the richest politicians in the country and the Congress’ chief trouble-shooter, Shivakumar emerged as the only one the failing Congress could cling to in such a dire situation. The party had won 78 seats, not nearly enough to form a government. Shivakumar took the responsibility of bringing the Congress back to power and he delivered.
DK Shivakumar had already taken the fall for harbouring 44 Gujarat MLAs during the Rajya Sabha polls. He had taken one for the team when the Income Tax Department raided his properties. The party owed Shivakumar a big one and this came in the form of free reign to negotiate his demands after forming a coalition with the JD(S).
Shivakumar, a strongman from Kanakapura in Ramanagaram district, chose to expand his power base. He was made the district in-charge Minister for Ballari, a BJP-dominated district. The leader, who stormed the political scene in Karnataka like a whirlwind, did not keep his aspirations of becoming the Chief Minister someday a secret. With this goal, he decided to spread his wings and dip into the Lingayat voter bank in the state’s second largest district – Belagavi.
He appointed his trusted lieutenant and the Belagavi Rural MLA, Lakshmi Hebbalkar, a former associate of Ramesh Jarkiholi, to orchestrate events to snatch the power away from the Jarkiholi brothers. For two decades now, the sugar barons – Ramesha and Satish Jarkiholi – have ruled the roost in Belagavi and made it their stronghold. Lakshmi was tasked with breaking down the walls of their fortress and make room for Shivakumar to become a household name in the district.
Lakshmi Hebbalkar also won the Primary Land Development (PLD) Bank elections held earlier in September. This was a step towards fortifying various cooperatives and agencies in order to be able to penetrate the Jarkiholi voter base.
Struck with defeat and threatened by glimpses of Shivakumar’s involvement in the events, the Jarkiholi brothers stepped up to assert their power in the Belagavi Congress. Ramesh and Satish Jarkiholi held talks with BJP’s MLA from Molakalmuru and the party’s Mr Moneybags – B Sriramulu.
The Jarkiholi brothers threatened to quit the party and join the BJP if their demands were not met. Among their demands, which included making one of the brothers a minister, there was also one crucial demand that is now threatening the collapse of the coalition government – DK Shivakumar’s exit from the politics in Belagavi and that he must be removed as the district in-charge Minister of Ballari.
“DK Shivakumar wants to become the Chief Minister someday, so does Satish Jarkiholi. One of Satish’s demands is to be made the President of the KPCC (Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee). It is unspoken that the KPCC President will be made the CM after the next election. DK Shivakumar is also trying to strongarm him and cut off the lifeline of sugar factories – the cooperatives,” a Congress leader said.
Always the tactician, Siddaramaiah bided his time and waited until his moment arrived in the form of the fallout of the PLD Bank elections in Belagavi.
With two factions in the Congress indulging in a game of political one-upmanship, the party’s high command has once again turned to Siddaramaiah to broker peace between DK Shivakumar and the Jarkiholis.
“Before leaving for his 12-day Europe tour, Siddaramaiah held a meeting with several disgruntled leaders in the Congress. Ever since Parameshwara and DK Shivakumar’s camp snatched the reins of power in Karnataka Congress, Siddaramaiah and his followers were sidelined. This is just a way of getting back what they lost. The cabinet reshuffle is said to happen before the end of this month (September) and Siddaramaiah wants his men in key portfolios, which Kumaraswamy has kept for himself,” the source added.
JD(S) insiders say that Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy have tightened the system of transfers of officials, which has made several leaders in the Congress angry.
“Revanna has taken over the responsibility of transfers. The ministers are not getting any cut in the profits, which is making them peckish for the power they once had. Siddaramaiah wants his men to be able to avail the benefits of the said ministries and has orchestrated the rebellion only so he could step in and be the man to save the coalition from falling flat,” a JD(S) leader said.
Sources in the Congress say that DK Shivakumar is reluctant to withdraw from his plan to expand his voter base. This comes after he openly told the media that he meant to involve himself in politics across the state. “The Jarkiholi brothers are free to do politics in Old Mysuru region. I invite them,” Shivakumar had told the media on Sunday.
“This is a challenge he has issued to the Jarkiholi brothers openly as he knows that his fortress is impenetrable. Siddaramaiah has already spoken to the Jarkiholis over phone and is expected to hold a series of talks starting Monday. Shivakumar is unwilling to budge and so are the Jarkiholis,” the source said.
Meanwhile, a faction of BJP leaders led by BS Yeddyurappa are still on a mission to avenge their leader for the embarrassment of being only a two-day CM.
Congress MLA from Heggadadevanakote Anil Chikkamadu told the media that the former MLA from Channapattana, CP Yogeshwar, offered him Rs 100 crore to join the BJP. Also, Sakleshpur MLA HK Kumaraswamy’s wife Chanchala told the media today that he was approached by the BJP. This comes after rumours of the BJP holding talks with 20 Congress and JD(S) MLAs began doing the rounds. Sources in the BJP say that they have managed to convince 17 leaders to turn so that the party can form a government in Karnataka. “They are trying to poach our leaders and they will not succeed. DK Shivakumar has everyone in control and no one will leave. They are free to leave but they won’t,” the Congress leader said.
Siddaramaiah, who held talks with Ramesh Jarkiholi on Tuesday, is believed to have tried to convince him to refrain from joining the BJP. PT Parameshwara Naik and Satish Jarkiholi too met Siddaramaiah, to discuss the course of action. “The talks are still going on. We don’t know what the outcome will be yet,” a Congress leader said.
Meanwhile BJP National President Amit Shah is said to have instructed the party’s leaders in the state to be on alert in case the Congress MLAs decide to defect.
On Tuesday BJP eaders Renukacharya, CC Patil and Ayanur Manjunath held a meeting with the party’s state President BS Yeddyurappa at his home in Dollar’s Colony to discuss the next step the party has to take in case the coalition collapses.