Politics
As his friends will tell you, Shivakumar is harmless, friendly and even rather charming, as long as you don’t cross his path. If you do however...
Courtesy: PTI

It can only be called DK Shivakumar’s ‘mere paas maa hai’ moment. The swashbuckling leader-turned-measured-negotiator of the Congress party in Karnataka evoked memories of Shashi Kapoor’s iconic dialogue in Deewar when he told TV cameras and policemen waiting to arrest him in Mumbai outside a hotel hosting his state’s rebel MLAs, “I have not come with weapons. I’ve come with a heart.”

The policemen were there as the rebel Congress-JD(S) MLAs sought protection from meeting him – protection from his legendary abilities of "persuasion".

Shivakumar, is known as DK or DKShi, but is more often called unprintable names by those he has subdued, or those who have lost to his extreme shrewdness, his alleged unabashed use of muscle, or a combination of both. And the MLAs know him well.

DKShi, a former student union leader, built his wealth and reputation from what his detractors will call "shady" granite mining, real estate and educational institutions. The fear evoked by his tactics of targeted manipulation is well-earned.

But he has friends in all political parties including several in the BJP, all of whom genuinely like him. And have business deals with him.

He has managed to pull off impossible victories in constituencies that were opposition strongholds year after year and is an election strategist second only to Amit Shah. He is also a die-hard Congressman who has always done what the High Command has asked of him.

Currently, he’s being seen as the last pillar holding up the roof over the Congress party. Even as former Chief Minister and Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah appears either helpless or quietly manipulative, depending on who you ask.

Shivakumar is the man that the BJP fears in Karnataka. He is the one the party has tried the hardest to poach. And he is, perhaps, the one person that BJP national president and home minister Amit Shah has not been able to persuade, possibly because he is of the same ilk.

DKShi faced five days of Income Tax raids on his house and on his friends, family, associates and even random connections when he was shepherding 44 Congress MLAs from Gujarat in 2017. They were needed to ensure the election of former Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha, and the BJP, led by Amit Shah, was trying to prevent it.

Unconfirmed reports were floated that valuables worth Rs 300 crore were found on DKShi'd property. But to any and all queries on the matter, he merely said, “Let them give the report first.” A report was filed after several months to show a much scaled down cash seizure of Rs 20 crore, and cases were filed of tax evasion, while Shivakumar was accused of tearing up a sheet of paper that reportedly had details of his major monetary hoard just before I-T officials reached him at the resort where the Gujarat MLAs were stationed.

He managed to achieve his political goal however – Ahmad Patel got elected to the Rajya Sabha.

But this time, as the Karnataka government is in yet another crisis, he seems to be facing some losses. DKShi made a dramatic late evening dash to Bengaluru’s international airport about 40 km away from the city to stop an MLA – considered to be his man – from joining the Congress-JDS rebels in Mumbai. He failed as the MLA “escaped,” whisked away by a private charter flight minutes before Shivakumar reached there. So, in typical style, DKShi followed him and the others to Mumbai to do what he does best – ‘persuade’ by whatever means necessary.

In Kanakapura, the Assembly constituency on the border of Bengaluru city which Shivakumar represents, the common refrain is: “Not a blade of grass moves here without DKShi’s say so. Nobody can cross him."

Stories abound of threats and musclemen who grabbed property and threatened people in Shivakumar’s name. But there is a grudging, underlying admiration for the man and his ruthless methods to ensure that his goals are met, even from people who allegedly hate him. He has won without a break since 1989 in the original Sathnur constituency-turned-Kanakapura, defeating every stalwart including former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and his son, the current CM HD Kumaraswamy.

The one time he contested for the Lok Sabha from the Kanakapura-turned-Bengaluru Rural constituency, though, he lost to Deve Gowda. He took this loss with his typical shrug and turned his attention to resolving the problem, and pushed his younger brother DK Suresh to stand from this constituency. Suresh is currently the sole Congress MP from Karnataka.

As his friends will tell you, Shivakumar is harmless, friendly and even rather charming, as long as you don’t cross his path. If you do, he picks you up by the scruff of your neck and throws you out. Just the threat of facing down this smiling man who reportedly has a wild bull tattoo on his arm, is enough to keep everyone in line. Which is precisely what the MLAs in Mumbai are afraid of.

Sowmya Aji is a political journalist who has covered Karnataka for 26 years. Views expressed are the author’s own.