The statement of MB Patil, senior Cabinet minister and Lingayat face of the Congress, denying any “power-sharing” formula between Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar has now become a hot potato for the high command, which is still savouring the huge victory, around two weeks ago.
Patil told media in Mysore that there was “no power-sharing agreement” between Siddaramaiah and DKS, and the former will continue as the CM for the entire five-year term.
An enraged DK Suresh, younger brother of Shivakumar and Bengaluru Rural Congress MP, hit back at Patil curtly telling him to mind his business.
According to reliable sources, an adamant DKS agreed to cede the CM post to Siddaramaiah only after the Gandhi family assured him that he will be the CM for the last 30 months of the current 60 months’ tenure. DKS has made it clear that he would agree to that if he were made the only Deputy CM. Left with no other options, the high command had to agree. For obvious reasons, no-one is talking about it in public.
This kind of an opaque power-sharing arrangement has created a lot of confusion, and vertically divided the party. Before the Karnataka election results, the Congress was planning to appoint a Deputy CM each from the Vokkaliga, Lingayat, Muslim and Dalit communities.
Patil and DKS are contemporaries and rivals in the Congress. Patil won his first Assembly election (a by-poll after his father’s death) in 1990 at the age of 25. He has won six Assembly and a Parliament election so far. Patil has held important portfolios of water resources and home affairs in the past. He was the chairman of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) in the just concluded elections and was credited with winning the BJP stronghold Kittur region for the Congress. He is instrumental in engineering the defection of big Lingayat leaders of the BJP such as former CM Jagadish Shettar ahead of the elections.
The Congress has swept almost all Lingayat dominated districts of the state, and the community, with 16% vote share in the party, was expecting at least a Deputy CM post.
Since the Congress has had an uneasy relationship with the Lingayat over the past 50 years, party insiders feel that the Congress leadership should be extra careful and sensitive towards them.
The Lingayats play a decisive role in 14 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka. The Congress must retain their votes to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The crucial Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and local body elections are also due, and the Siddaramaiah government is likely to hold them in the next six months.
DK Shivakumar, an eight-time MLA from the Vokkaliga caste, claims he has decimated the Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) in the Gowda stronghold in the recent Assembly elections. But his area of influence is limited to just three to four districts in the Old Mysore region. Vokkaligas are nearly 12% of the population and restricted only to 10 districts in the region.
Lingayat is a pan-Karnataka community except for two districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. Old Mysore region also has a large number of Lingayats and the Congress needs them to win here too.
CM Siddaramaiah has a hold over AHINDA or minorities, backward classes, and Dalits across the state. AICC president M Mallikarjun Kharge has also strengthened party’s Dalit votes. Patil and other leaders such as Shamanur Shivashankarappa, Eshwar Khandre, Laxman Savadi, Jagadish Shettar, Lakshmi Hebbalkar control Lingayat votes. Besides DKS, Congress has other Vokkaliga leaders such as Krishna Byre Gowda, TB Jayachandra, Cheluvarayaswamy, Dr MC Sudhakar and others.
DKS supporters already believe denying the leader the CM post has turned Vokkaligas against the Congress. Others, however, think the Lingayats, Muslims and Dalits are at odds with DKS and the Congress by not choosing a Deputy CM from their community.
These leaders are upset over one-upmanship and want the high command to rein in the ones who are speaking out of turn. The war of words over “power sharing” has taken the sheen off the spectacular victory of Congress in Karnataka.