The Bold Voice of J&K

A Congress versus Congress fight

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Kalyani Shankar 

After tasting rebellion in Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Uttarakhand and Puducherry in recent times, the Congress’s latest headache comes from Karnataka, the biggest Congress-ruled State. Karnataka is heading towards a political crisis after Chief Minister K Siddaramaiah dropped 14 of his Ministers last week and inducted 13 new Ministers. The major reshuffle came soon after the Rajya Sabha election where the party won three of the four Rajya Sabha seats and four of the seven seats in the State Legislative Council’s biennial election. These elections saw allegations of blatant corruption and cross voting.
This is the first time that Siddaramaiah has reshuffled his Cabinet in three years. In the 224-member Assembly, the Congress has 123 MLAs. Siddaramaiah as well as the Congress leadership in Delhi should have expected this reaction from the Ministers who have been dropped. As a former Congress Chief Minister said, it is easy to add members to the Cabinet but difficult to drop them.
Obviously, Siddaramaiah has ruffled feathers and annoyed senior and well-established leaders like Kannada film actor Ambareesh, Srinivasa Prasad and others. In fact, he had dropped leaders from various castes on health and other grounds. Ambareesh, who lost his Cabinet berth, has resigned as an MLA and more might follow. Angry followers of Ambareesh, and other senior Ministers, who lost their jobs like V Srinivasa Prasad, Qamar ul Islam and Baburao Chinchansur, have hit the streets in Gulbarga, Mandya and Mysore.
Siddaramaiah is now struggling to deal with a volatile situation, as there is an open war between senior Congress leaders and the Chief Minister. The Congress leadership in Delhi has failed to assess the situation even after former External Affairs Minister SM Krishna gave his assessment in March, during a meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Krishna is reported to have conveyed that things are dangerously on the slide in the southern State.
At the root of all this tension is the ‘outsider’ tag of Siddaramaiah, who came from the Janata Dal (Secular). He had done little to assimilate his supporters with the Congress workers. Until Siddaramaiah joined the Congress in 2005, he had been a staunch anti-Congress politician.
Even after 12 years, local Congress leaders still regard him as an outsider who does not know the Congress’s culture. They complain that at least half the Cabinet comprises of old friends of the Chief Minister who switched sides when he joined the Congress, and his close aides and advisors are also from the JD(S) background.
His caste politics of tilting towards the backward class has also distanced traditional Lingayats, Vokkaligas and Scheduled Caste voters from the Congress, his detractors say.
The simmering discontent in Karnataka Congress against Siddaramaiah had intensified since March when nearly 50 per cent of the party legislators skipped the crucial Congress Legislature Party meeting. The Congress high command has the difficult task of not only fire fighting but also taking steps to quell the dissidence besides keeping the flock together.
Second, Karnataka is known for its factionalism. There are various groups, which do not see eye-to-eye. The party high command has to find ways to balance these factions and find a leader acceptable to all.
Third, with the Congress versus Congress fight going on in the ruling party, the BJP is watching the fun. It had improved its vote share from 18 per cent to 43 per cent in the 2014 polls in Karnataka. With former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa returning as the State BJP president, the possibility of the Lingayat strongman wooing the rebels is the reality.
Fourth, Siddaramaiah has realised that there’s no need to pay heed to the Congress high command, particularly after the party lost successive polls in important States like Haryana, Maharashtra and Assam.
The immediate task for the Congress, therefore, is to pacify the rebels. The second is to rein in the Chief Minister. The third is to pacify the various groups and factions in the State Congress. The fourth is to chalk out a strategy about how to woo the various castes and hold on to the present vote-bank.

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