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Siddaramaiah, Shivakumar tensions come to the fore as Congress readies for polls

Trouble has started brewing in the Karnataka Congress unit, with former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s camp pitching him for a second term as the party gears up to face the assembly polls in less than two years.

The Congress, which trailed the BJP in the 2018 assembly polls that left no party with a majority, has been upbeat about winning the next election as the ruling BJP finds itself on the defensive due to constant attack by its own leaders.

The Congress chose DK Shivakumar (59) for the state party chief’s position last year, recognising his record for pulling off victories in tough poll battles. The eight-time MLA has been known for delivering results in the tasks assigned to him. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, for instance, his brother DK Suresh emerged as the sole winner from the Congress.

Coming from the powerful Vokkaliga community, combined with financial muscle power, Shivakumar’s ambition to become chief minister is no secret. To cement his position as a pan-Karnataka leader, he has been touring the state and organising anti-BJP protests ever since he took over. He is also preparing the ground for a smooth transition from Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president to chief ministership if the Congress were to secure a majority.

But Siddaramaiah (72), who seemed tired of politics after the defeat in the 2018 assembly polls in Mysuru, has bounced back, making sharp statements against the BJP regime. He is aiming for another term, egged on by his staunch followers, according to Congress insiders. He will be 74 during the next assembly polls, not too old to take another shot at power.

Just as factions have emerged within the BJP, the Congress too is broadly split into groups loyal to Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar. Then there are, of course, neutral leaders loyal only to the party high command.

Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba by birth, but he has always projected himself as representing the interests of Ahinda (acronym in Kannada for minorities, backward classes and Dalits).

The former CM came into the Congress from the JD(S) in the mid-1990s, and several others migrated to the Congress later. Sections of MLAs, in the Congress as well as in the BJP, have their loyalties pledged to Siddaramaiah. While MLAs in the Congress, such as BZ Zameer Ahmad Khan and Raghavendra Hitnal talk about it in public, a few in the BJP too have kept their relationship with Siddaramaiah warm and may hop to the Congress before the assembly polls.

The public show of pitching for Siddaramaiah by some MLAs, however, has not gone down well with original Congressmen such as Mallikarjuna Kharge, Shivakumar and G Parameshwara. “These statements are being made without Siddaramaiah’s approval,” former union minister KH Muniyappa said on Tuesday.

The Congress, Shivakumar has said, will fight the election under collective leadership, seeking to put an end to such talk by his party colleagues. He met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Tuesday, and is said to have briefed him about the latest political developments.

Meanwhile, the BJP, at which the Congress lobbed potshots last week, has returned the barbs. “DK Shivakumar has complained to Sonia Gandhi against his bitter rival Siddaramaiah, while Surjewala (AICC general secretary) is trying a cover-up act,” the BJP tweeted.

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