The entry of DesignBoxed, a firm that calls itself a “creative political digital campaign management company”, has amplified the rift.

Siddaramaiah, DK Shivakumar
news Politics Thursday, June 03, 2021 - 17:58

A few days ago, a tweet was posted from the handle of Karnataka Congress and deleted within a few minutes. The tweet said, “If @DKShivakumar would have been CM today, Things would have been under control in Karnataka." Though the tweet stayed on the account for only a short span of time, it was enough to further the disaffection brewing for many years between Karnataka Congress’ two top leaders--Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar. Congress insiders say that the tweet was the handiwork of a political strategy firm that has been hired by DK Shivakumar, the strategies of which have fueled the feud further.

It is no secret that the two leaders have not been on the same page on many issues and that there has been a struggle for supremacy between them. But the entry of DesignBoxed, a firm that calls itself a “creative political digital campaign management company” has amplified the rift. The firm was reportedly hired by DK Shivakumar as the PCC president to design strategies for the Congress but that has translated into projection of Shivakumar as the Chief Minister candidate of the Congress for the Assembly polls that is still two years away.

DesignBoxed has worked with the Congress on several election assignments in the past including Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh in 2017, Punjab in 2017, Rajasthan in 2018, Chattisgarh in 2018, Haryana in 2019, and Parliamentary elections in Punjab in 2019. The firm was recently hired in Karnataka after the byelections for three seats in the state.

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While DesignBoxed has had mixed results in terms of electoral success working with the Congress, Karnataka is their first foray into a south Indian state. Many from the Congress who have been roped in to work with the firm say that their methods seem to be not in sync with the political culture of the state. “An approach that worked well in the north does not necessarily have to yield the same results in Karnataka. There is definitely a language barrier but there is also a cultural dissonance,” said a Congress insider to TNM.

While the mandate of the firm has been to propel the chances of the party, its disproportionate focus on just projecting Shivakumar as the leader as well as the future CM has ruffled too many feathers in the Congress. Omission of Siddaramaiah in the party’s campaign has caused the most dissatisfaction.

Those who have worked closely with both the leaders say there is a stark difference between the two in terms of how they function. Shivakumar is a politician who keenly follows media reports and social media trends to curate his image as a leader. He had also used the services of a PR firm in Delhi to deal with his national image. In contrast, Siddaramaiah is known to be indifferent to how he is being projected in the media, particularly outside of Karnataka. "Many who have tried to suggest steps of course correction by manoeuvring the media to his benefit have failed to convince him," says a Congress source.

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But on ground, Siddaramaiah still holds an edge over Shivakumar. The Kuruba community, which the former CM belongs to, constitutes between 7-9% of the total population and Siddaramaiah is the tallest leader from the community. In many seats in north Karnataka, even where Lingayats are large in number, the Kuruba votes are crucial for a candidate to win. The Vokkaliga community to which Shivakumar belongs constitute 11% of the population but the community is largely concentrated in the southern belt and is still loyal to the JD(S). After the collapse of the coalition government led by HD Kumaraswamy, many political observers in the Old Mysuru region say that they are witnessing a consolidation of the Vokkaliga community in favour of the JD(S), a development that may adversely impact Shivakumar’s influence.

The animosity between the two leaders had been manifested in several incidents recently. Their visit to Chamarajanagar, where 21 people lost their lives due to lack of oxygen at a hospital, exposed the faultlines. As the two leaders even travelled to Chamarajanagar separately--with Siddaramaiah taking a helicopter and Shivakumar travelling by road--the visit, sources say, was marred by conversations of the tussle between them.

Several leaders including Krishna Byregowda, Dinesh Gundurao, Rizwan Arshad and Ajay Singh have supported many of Siddaramaiah's suggestions in the party, sources tell TNM. While Shivakumar too has many legislators loyal to him, at the time of elections, Siddaramaiah’s support is crucial for many to win their constituencies, the source added.

In the past, Rahul Gandhi has reportedly openly praised Siddaramaiah in party platforms while Shivakumar has managed to gain Sonia Gandhi’s trust, a Congress leader in Delhi told TNM. So which way the Congress high command will weigh remains to be seen.

So with Facebook pages and hashtags like DKS For CM and Siddaramaiah Once Again, the party’s chances of winning the elections seem largely impacted. “It is like fighting for the rent of a house which has not even been built. At this point, the leaders should focus on building the party for the elections but instead they are fighting to be the CM,” said a party insider summing up the power tussle in the Congress.