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Southern Slice | Rahul Watching, DKS-Siddaramaiah Unity Aimed at Mission 2023 or Signifies Calm Before Storm?


Southern Slice The Bharat Jodo Yatra is in Karnataka to unite the country, but it is evident that not much of ‘Jodo’ is happening in the state Congress unit due to constant one-upmanship between former chief minister and Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah and state party chief DK Shivakumar.

Amid the power tussle, one could say the yatra has come as another opportunity for the Congress to publicly project a united front and bonhomie between the two heavyweight leaders.

The Karnataka Congress is faced with a conundrum with the continuing internal strife between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar. This, many feel, may affect their chances in the upcoming state elections. The party high command has sent several messages to the state leadership to ensure that fissures between the two seniors that have often crept up do not implode just ahead of the 2023 polls.

Even though both leaders have overtly expressed unity in the party and amongst themselves, their respective loyalists have left no stone unturned to showcase their support for their respective favourites and that has made the situation even more fragile.

At the inaugural ceremony of the Karnataka leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi not only ensured that both the leaders were given equal importance but the most telling visual was when he picked both their hands and asked them to beat the drum in unison — a reminder for them to stay united and a message to the cadre that things will be smoothened out.

Even during the Padyatra, one could see Rahul Gandhi being flanked by both leaders on either side or in deep discussion while walking at a slower pace. The idea is to ensure that the national walk-a-thon undertaken by Gandhi should be a success and not hindered by the frictions that the state unit may have.

Earlier in August, when Siddaramaiah celebrated his 75th anniversary in Danvanagere, it was not just a programme but a show of strength by the leader that he remains the most popular Congress face in the state. Here again, Rahul Gandhi prompted Shivakumar to hug Siddaramaiah, another visual that will remain etched in the memory of party workers.

While Shivakumar has the backing of the Vokkaliga community, the second-largest voting population in Karnataka, Siddaramaiah is seen as the undisputed leader of the AHINDAs. AHINDA is a Kannada acronym that stands for ‘Alpasankhyataru’ (minorities), ‘Hindulidavaru’ (Backward Classes), and ‘Dalitaru’ (Dalits). He also enjoys support from the Lingayats and Vokkaligas.

Congress leaders speak in whispers about the high command being concerned about the political one-upmanship and how party leaders have been advised to try to efficiently resolve it. Yet many believe that if the Congress’s chances in the assembly polls turn in their favour, the race to occupy the chief minister’s chair could turn out to be a major hurdle.

As the Congress prepared to host the Karnataka leg of the yatra, it is said Shivakumar pulled up some party colleagues for not contributing adequately towards the preparations.

In the firing line was senior Congress leader RV Deshpande. Shivakumar publicly expressed his unhappiness at not receiving enough support from Deshpande who was asked to mobilise 5,000 people from his constituency to be a part of the yatra. It was said that the state Congress chief was unhappy when he did not receive confirmation of numbers. Deshpande is said to be aligned with the Siddaramaiah camp and was the chairman of the committee managing Siddaramotsava or the 75th birthday celebrations of the former chief minister.

Shivakumar’s move was seen to be an attack directed towards Siddaramaiah. Later, Deshpande was not included in the internal committee panels set up to prepare for the yatra.

There have been quite a few rounds of closed-door talks between AICC general secretary in-charge of Karnataka Randeep Singh Surjewala, Shivakumar, and Siddaramaiah to keep a united front.

In June last year, when Shivakumar wanted to bring in fresh faces and remove all the existing office-bearers at the districts, taluka, and block level to strengthen the party, Siddaramaiah resisted it. Siddaramaiah, who had called it his last election when Karnataka went to polls in 2019, has found himself refreshed and revived to fight one more. He has been touring the state as well in advance and was even seen distributing ration kits to the poor.

Their loyalists did not spare the Bharat Jodo Yatra as well. A series of posters in Raichur caused a furore. While Rahul Gandhi, Shivakumar and other Congress leaders found space on the posters, Siddaramaiah was missing. An internal note in the Congress on the issue says the step was taken by supporters but the posters were changed overnight.

As the yatra gains momentum, the BJP was quick to poke fun at the Congress, saying it was important “for Rahul Gandhi to first ‘Jodo” (join) Siddu (Siddaramaiah)-DKShi (DK Shivakumar) and then concentrate on his Kanyakumari to Kashmir Bharat Jodo Yatra”.

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