Harsha Raj Gatty
Storyinfinity for Daijiworld
Mangaluru, Jun 13: The Karnataka polls 2018 was something spectacular if not thrilling, it managed to get the complete attention of the nation, some commentators even terming it as giving a head-on competition to the IPL 20-20. A stiff neck-and-neck contest ensued between the BJP, JD(S) and the Congress, with none of the parties conceding defeat till the last minute.
The election came to an end with a spectacular photo-op of the regional front's show of strength at the oath-taking ceremony of the JD(S) leader chief minister Kumaraswamy and his new deputy G Parameshwar of the Congress party last month.
In the midst of the brouhaha of the emotions and bonhomie at Vidhana Soudha among the key leaders of the new order of Congress-JD(S) led coalition, former chief minister Siddaramaiah remained aloof from the glare. For onlookers, it was a completely different Siddaramaiah, who was known for not mincing words, who roared the launch of ambitious 'Anna Bhagya' scheme on the very day of his oath taking in 2013 at Kanteerava stadium. During the election campaign even his Twitter handle was known for outwitting against the opposition BJP's jibes questioning his governance.
Barely a few months ago, Siddaramaiah achieved the feat of being the first among his contemporaries (since 1970s) to complete a five-year term as the Karnataka chief minister. The 70-year old leader who called the shots both at the party, candidates and government policies; was hailed as an apple of the eye of the AICC central leadership.
It seemed that that the meteoric rise of this former JD(S) leader, who joined the Congress camp barely in 2006 was limitless. The leader had taken on the Ballari mining barons Reddy brothers with his 320-kilometre padayatra and his craftiness in mobilising Ahinda movement against BJP's communal polarization had forced the then struggling KPCC to endorse Siddaramaiah's style of politics to remain relevant.
"Even senior Congress leader like Mallikarjun Kharge and G Parameshwar Rao acted helpless as they were clearly told by the high command not to interfere the government affairs," a party leader says.
But come May 15, there was a deafening pause, the leader who exuded confidence of returning as CM, not only lost from Chamundeshwari by an embarrassing margin of 36,042 votes to JD(S) candidate G T Devegowda, he barely survived against BJP candidate Sriramulu with a 1,696 margin. The short-coming of the Congress leader was in tandem with the overall performance of the party in rest of the state as well, where the Congress barely secured 79 MLAs in the 224 constituencies.
While leaders within the party have criticised that 'too-much' minority appeasement of Siddaramaiah cost the party in the polls, others chided him for distancing from Ahinda movement that back in 2013 united the minorities, backward classes and Dalits - and was considered a befitting alternative to the BJP's pro-Hindutva campaign.
However, former Congressman and legislator P Ramesh says that it was sheer 'arrogance' of Siddaramaiah that cost the party. Post the victory at Gundalpet and Nanjangud last summer, the attitude and arrogance of Siddaramaiah came to the fore. "He felt invincible. Along with his small coterie led by former home minister K J George and ex-IPS officer Kempaiah, he distanced himself from the party workers. Be it legislators, party workers or senior leaders - he behaved high-highhandedly with all of them. At the height of over-confidence, he even started addressing veteran leaders in singular tense instead of plural. This drastically effected the minds of the supporters of those leaders, who punished the Congress party as a whole," he says.
According to Ramesh, had Siddaramaiah listened to the booth-level cadre and acted on the inputs, the party would have easily garnered an additional 40+ seats. "Instead, based on a fudged and positive opinion poll of C-fore commissioned by Siddaramaiah himself, he convinced the Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the party leadership to give him full control of choosing candidates," he says.
A senior party leader also alleged that that it was Siddaramaiah, who obstructed the KPCC's pre-poll attempts for reconciliation with former Congress leader Kumar Bangarappa, Dalit leader V Srinivasa Prasad, former chief minister S M Krishna, and actor-turned-politician H Ambareesh. "Hogathana avanu, Hogli Bidu, Karibeda (Is he going to leave the party? Let him go, don't coax him back)," he recollects the former CM saying at one of the meeting following the departure of one such leader.
Moreover, the central Congress leadership was kept at abeyance from the fact that Siddaramaiah no longer commands the loyalty of Kuruba community. "During the pre-poll intelligence showed to us that in his own constituency, barely 52 percent people approved his leadership. That's too less for a CM candidate. Unlike in 2013, Kuruba voters today have branched out to former Congress leaders like A H Vishwanath (incumbent JD(S) MLA), Varthur Prakash, and BJP leaders like K S Eshwarappa," he says.
In fact, Ramesh says it was an open secret that during the 2013 polls, Siddaramaiah used his community affiliation to ensure the defeat of G Parameshwara, so that he could take over the chief minister's mantle. "So it’s fair enough to say that life has come a full circle for him," he says.
Technically, Siddaramaiah had three seats under his belt, besides his own candidacy at Badami and Chamundeshwari, he had also se tup his son Dr Yathindra from Varuna constituency, which deviated the attention of the leader's campaign jurisdiction.
Moreover, the Siddaramaiah cabinet's decision to grant minority tag to Lingayat community evidently backfired. It was largely seen by the Lingayat constituents as a political move to destabilise BJP vote bank and an attempt to divide the community for poll benefit. Subsequently, the Lingayat belt of Bombay-Karnataka and Central Karnataka voted for BJP at 45 constituencies, whereas the Congress lost 20 of the seats 86 seats in comparison to the 2013 results.
Also, Siddaramaiah’s repeated pre-poll verbal assault against JD(S) leader Deve Gowda, H D Kumaraswamy, and ACB raids directed against G T Devegowda worked against him. Not only did the move invite the wrath of the Vokkaliga community against Siddaramaiah, in case of G T Devegowda most of the votes polled to him were out of sympathy by the constituencies.
Even if Congress had won a 100 seats, Siddaramaiah would have definitely come back as the chief minister, but now that boat has sailed, a senior party functionary says.
Back at present, Siddaramaiah who held as many as seven portfolios during his tenure, after the drubbing defeat in the polls, has been reverted to his old designation as the leader of Congress Legislature Party - which was first accorded to him in 2009.
The Congress leader has been appointed as the chairman of (Congress-JD(S)) coordination committee - which is a non-constitutional post. However the party leaders say that given Siddaramaiah’s bitter relations with the first family of JD(S), it is uncertain to what extent Siddaramaiah would be able to bring unity in the coalition government in the midst of the report on growing discontent among the party leaders on regular basis.