In the run up to the state assembly elections in Karnataka 5 years ago, the incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who had till a year prior to the last assembly election served as the leader of opposition in the state assembly, declared that the 2013 Karnataka Vidhan Sabha election were to be the last election of his career. Back then, Siddaramaiah was upset when the Congress High Command had denied a ticket to his close friend C M Ibrahim for the legislative council polls. He was so miffed with the party leadership that after quitting as leader of opposition in 2012, he had even refused to attend a youth program of Rahul Gandhi at Hubli. Rahul Gandhi and his party had been in power at the Centre for 8 years, although they were beleaguered by allegations of massive corruption and policy paralysis. Siddaramaiah was a state leader who joined the Congress party from the Janata dal Secular (JDS) in 2006 and had resigned as the leader of opposition in Karnataka.
When the Congress won the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha election in 2013, Siddaramaiah was chosen as the Chief Minister of Karnataka after the Congress party adopted secret balloting to select the new Chief Minister.
Even then Siddaramaiah was one of the many Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled states with the party itself ruling at the Centre. Cut to 2018, the Congress party is in a floundering position with a dubious stand on issues of national interest, shown the door by the people in 2014, shrinking support among the people and hardly any Chief Ministers (Capt. Amarinder Singh who won Punjab in 2017 on his own, being the only exception) in big states of the country. Today, Siddaramaiah is the only important Congress Chief Minister of a major state in the country.
It is considering this changed scenario now that the Congress party declared in the summer of 2017 that Siddaramaiah would lead the party in the 2018 Karnataka Vidhan Sabha election. Today, when the Congress party under Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, has consistently lost power in important states is looking at bleak political prospects in other state elections in the future, Siddaramaiah has emerged stronger within his party. It is largely for this reason and to curb factions led by powerful Congress leaders of the state such as G Parameshwara, D K Shivakumar, K H Muniyappa, S R Patil and the present Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge that the Congress leadership decided not to upset the apple-cart. This decision also ensured that the infighting within the party would be curbed ahead of the crucial election in April-May this year.
Even though steps intended to ensure damage control in the state unit have been taken by the Congress leadership, not all appears hunky dory. Ahead of the state election, the main challenger to the Congress in the state, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has also declared former Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa as its Chief Ministerial candidate. Yeddyurappa, the current Lok Sabha member from Shimoga belongs to the influential Lingayat community of the state, which is expected to back the BJP in the upcoming state election. The BJP leader also launched a Yatra known as Nava Karnataka Nirmana Parivartan Yatra in November 2017 against the Siddaramaiah Government and targeting it on the issue of rampant corruption.
Meanwhile, there are also reports that Mr. Siddaramaiah who presently represents Varuna constituency in Mysore district of the state could be looking at shifting his constituency. There are also reports that top Congress leaders and ministers may lose the upcoming election. Senior Congress leaders were quoted by the Bangalore-based website thenewsminute.com as suggesting that Minister D K Shivakumar, another contender for the post of Chief Minister, would be easily defeated if he contested from any other constituency than his own.
Perhaps, the shaky position of the Chief Minister in his own constituency, buttressed by the report of the state intelligence department and the apprehension of sabotage by his rivals within the state unit of the Congress party could have prompted Siddaramaiah to think of shifting his constituency ahead of the election.
Last year in March, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had launched an internet-based platform called Pratibimba, meaning reflection, to showcase the state Government’s achievements to the citizens. By all likelihoods, Siddaramaiah’s declaration in 2013 that it would be the last election might well turn out to be an accurate forecast for his political career 5 years later in 2018 when the voters are likely to show him the reflection of the relatively poor performance of his state government on the issues of corruption, law and order, stirring up issues of dividing the society (such as referring the issue of separate granting the status of a separate religion for the Lingayats), celebration of Tipu Jayanti, supporting consumption of beef.
The State Chief Minister thinking of changing his Constituency and looking to a more ‘comfortable’ seat are telltale signs of a party in disarray. While we may argue about Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s skills as an administrator but there is no point denying that he is an astute politician, and it seems that he has seen the writing on the wall. 2018 is not going to bring any good news to Congress either.
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