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HomePolitical PulseSiddaramaiah-Shivakumar rivalry continues to simmer in Karnataka as proxies land the blows

Siddaramaiah-Shivakumar rivalry continues to simmer in Karnataka as proxies land the blows

Two recent incidents in Karnataka have revealed the continued tussle on between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy CM D K Shivakumar despite a facade of unity. The fissures that existed between original Congress members and new members when the government was formed remain below the surface in the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).

Earlier this month, senior Congress leader B K Hariprasad, who is considered to be a close ally of Shivakumar, organised a rally of Other Backward Class (OBC) communities, including the Edigas community to which he belongs. At the September 9 rally, Hariprasad questioned Siddaramaiah’s credentials as a socialist and OBC leader and his love for the good life. “Someone who wears a panche (dhoti), a Hublot watch, and a khaki chaddi inside cannot be a socialist,” Hariprasad said in an indirect reference to a controversy that engulfed Siddaramaiah during his first tenure as CM in 2016 after he accepted an expensive watch as a gift.

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The attack on Siddaramaiah is being viewed in political circles as an effort to undermine the CM’s position as an OBC leader. To several observers, the complicity of Shivakumar in the attack by Hariprasad was evident. While Siddaramaiah refused to comment on the matter saying the senior leader did not mention him by name, he is reported to have pressured the Congress’s national leadership to censure the former Congress MP.

“It is the Congress leaders themselves who are saying their CM is not a socialist. They are in a fog of discontent. They do not have the guts to expel B K Hariprasad. They spoke about my expulsion when I spoke against my party. Let them do it now and show their courage,” said BJP leader Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, daring Shivakumar, who is also the state Congress chief.

The All India Congress Committee (AICC) has censured Hariprasad by issuing him a notice and seeking an explanation. “The Congress president has received a complaint of violation of party discipline by Shri B K Hariprasad … He is accused of criticising the Chief Minister Shri Siddaramaiah publicly and sharing the dais with BJP and YSR Congress Party leaders at a Backward Class conference at Bengaluru on 9th September, 2023,” the AICC said last week, adding, “The matter was referred to the Disciplinary Action Committee and the committee has decided to serve a show cause notice on him asking him to explain his conduct within 10 days.”

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Hariprasad who spent several decades in the AICC in Delhi doing backroom work before recently returning to Karnataka politics went into a sulk after the notice was issued, forcing the Congress to send emissaries to mollify him. In the end, he attended the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in Hyderabad over the weekend.

Hariprasad was widely tipped to be in the Siddaramaiah cabinet but did not find a place despite Shivakumar’s backing. Hariprasad, who is an MLC, is believed to have been kept out by the CM despite the party leadership approving his induction into the Cabinet.

After being left out of the Cabinet, Hariprasad has worked to create an OBC platform to challenge Siddaramaiah, much like the Karnataka CM did around two decades ago by floating the AHINDA combination of minorities, backwards, and Dalits before he broke away from the Janata Dal (Secular) in 2006.

While Hariprasad belongs to the Ediga/Billava community that makes up 6% of the OBC population in Karnataka, Siddarmaiah belongs to the Kuruba community that makes up 8% of the OBC population. OBCs constitute 33% of Karnataka’s population. The Edigas have not had a mass leader since the days of S Bangarappa in the 1990s and the attempt to create a base in the community and the larger OBC community through Hariprasad is widely seen as a strategy by rivals to blunt Siddaramaiah’s primacy as the foremost OBC leader in Karnataka.

Siddaramaiah camp’s response

In a sign that the move to prop up Hariprasad as an OBC leader had not gone down well in the Siddaramaiah camp, a Congress minister from the Kuruba community, K N Rajanna, suggested that the Congress should appoint three deputy CMs alongside Shivakumar.

The comments by the co-operation minister who is considered to be a close ally of Siddaramaiah are seen as an indirect salvo against Shivakumar, who reportedly insisted during government formation in June that there should be only one deputy CM.

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Rajanna has suggested that a leader from either the Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Scheduled Tribes (STs), a Lingayat leader, and a leader from a minority community should also be appointed deputy CMs since these communities backed the party in the polls. The minister said he would write to the high command on this. In response to Rajanna’s suggestion, the CM said the decision was the high command’s to make.

Shivakumar on Monday said Siddaramaiah must respond to the minister’s demand for more deputy CMs. “I have been appointed by the Governor on the advice of the CM. The chief minister must reply to these things. Everyone is working under the CM and the CM must reply on these issues,” he added.

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Shivakumar, however, denied that the two incidents — of Hariprasad and Rajanna — were linked to factionalism in the Congress. “In my life in politics, I have never identified with factions. I do not need factions. If I were involved in factionalism, I would have created factions on many occasions from the time of S Bangarappa. My only faction is the Congress faction. The one who should seek a response from Rajanna is the CM and the high command. Hariprasad will get a response from the party high command since he is a member of the working committee,” he said.

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