The Congress high command had perhaps not expected that choosing a president for the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) and opposition-cum-party-legislature leader to the state Legislative Assembly would become a daunting task. But right now, the party is in a bind – it has to please two influential leaders – Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar – who are both contenders for the posts.
Rumours were doing the rounds that the announcement would be made of the auspicious day of Makara Sankranti – January 18 – but the date came and went and there is no announcement yet. Indications are that the exercise is likely to be delayed further, as AICC president Sonia Gandhi along with other party leaders are looking at several options to ensure the final decision does not lead to fresh dissensions. Karnataka is the sole state down south, which has stood by the party at all times. The party's bosses in New Delhi are aware that not everything has been lost and if things are managed properly, they stand a chance to regain power.
According to Congress sources, former minister DK Shivakumar has reportedly been assured of the KPCC president's post. However, the catch seems to lie in the options which Siddaramaiah is said to have placed during his discussions with Sonia and former party president Rahul Gandhi recently.
It's a known fact that there is no love lost between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar though the latter is trying to mend fences with foes within the party, and has been paying them house visits – including Siddaramaiah.
Siddaramaiah's original candidate for the KPCC chief's post was former minister M B Patil. But now, to cut Shivakumar from getting overarching powers, Siddaramaiah is said to have suggested a formula of four working presidents, each in charge of a regional division. The high command seems to be considering this – they have adopted a similar strategy in Maharashtra.
However, Shivakumar, who is popularly called Kanakapura'bande (Kanakapura is the constituency he represents and bande means rock) is not open to having four deputies going by past experience. He was the working president, when former minister RV Deshpande was the KPCC president from 2008 to 2010, which had resulted in two parallel power centres in the organisation.
On the other hand, Siddaramaiah himself is trying to consolidate his position by ensuring that the Leader of Opposition (LoP) and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) posts are not split. Siddaramaiah had resigned along with KPCC president Dinesh Gundurao from both the posts after the Congress won just two of the 15 seats in the assembly bypolls in December. AICC observer Madhusudan Mistry, who was in Bengaluru in December to elicit opinion on the party's revamp, is said to have suggested bifurcating the two posts.
Former minister HK Patil, who has earlier served as opposition leader in the Legislative Council is said to be an aspirant for the CLP leader's post, if it is split. “The CLP leader will be on the lines of what Sonia is as Congress Parliamentary leader and is above the LoP. The CLP leader is not a constitutionally recognised post and has no perks unlike the LoP which is of Cabinet rank,'' sources said.
Siddaramaiah is said to be lobbying against the splitting of the two posts for reasons that if he is continued as LoP, he will have to work under the new CLP leader. “As a former Chief Minister, how can I work under a person who was junior to me?” he is said to have told some of his aides.
The Congress high command seems to be caught in a bind in the shadow boxing between the Kanakapura bande and ‘Tagaru' as Siddaramaiah is referred to – meaning a ram. “In this confrontation between the two leaders, the party has not appointed chief whips in both Houses of the Karnataka legislature, posts which are of Cabinet rank. Once a decision is taken on the top posts, caste equations will be worked out for the chief whips’ appointments,'' sources said.
While the KPCC chief and LoP posts have been vacant since December 9, AICC general secretary and Karnataka in-charge KC Venugopal has also resigned after he was elevated in the AICC. “The party high command has to make appointments from top to bottom without displeasing anyone. It's a complicated exercise and a Catch 22 situation for the party bosses, which is the reason for deadlines being missed,'' sources stated.
Naheed Ataulla is a journalist who has covered Karnataka politics for over two decades, and is a former Political Editor of The Times of India. Views expressed are the author's own.