The race for the Karnataka chief minister’s post within the Congress party has intensified, with the leader of the Opposition in the outgoing assembly, Siddaramaiah, and the Union minister for labour and employment and veteran Congress leader from Karnataka, Mallikarjun M Kharge, leading the race.
“The high command is sending central observers from Delhi to ascertain from the members the choice for chief minister. The high command will decide and I will abide by their decision,” Siddaramaiah told reporters on Thursday.
The All India Congress Committee has deputed A K Antony, Madhusudan Mistry, general secretary Luizinho Faleiro and Jitendra Singh to Bangalore to hold discussions with the newly elected legislators. Kharge has said he’ll take up any responsibility the high command entrusts him with. “This is not the right time to say what work I have done in the past. The party knows about my contribution and they will take a decision and each one of us will have to abide by it,” he told reporters before leaving for Delhi this morning.
Since 1972, Kharge has not lost a single election and has held several ministerial berths in the state government. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Gulbarga in 2009.
He had said on Wednesday if the high command thought he was fit for the post, it was for it to take the decision. However, he had said he did not want to be considered just because he was a Dalit.
Other aspirants for the post include Union petroleum minister Veerappa Moily and D K Shivakumar, a six-time winner in state assembly elections. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president G Parameshwar was also a contender. However, his defeat from the Koratagere constituency in Tumkur district has ruled him out of the race.
H Vishwanath, member of Parliament from Mysore, said: “All the rank and file of the party have worked for the party to secure a majority in this election. Similarly, their cooperation is required to elect the new chief minister. I appeal to all of them to elect the new leader peacefully.”
Parameshwar has convened a meeting of all newly elected members at the party office. It is said he wants to personally congratulate all the members for their victory and elicit their opinion on the election of a new Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader.
After tomorrow’s meeting with the newly elected legislators, the KPCC president is likely to convene a CLP meeting on Saturday to elect the new leader.
Kharge, a veteran from the state, stands a better chance, enjoying the confidence of the Congress high command, party leaders in Delhi said. What does not also weigh in favour of Siddaramaiah is his reputation of being arrogant and lacking the ability to carry people along with him. A Congress senior said: “To eliminate Parameshwar, Siddaramaiah, himself a Kuruba leader, ensured that the Kuruba community (shepherds) did not vote for Parameshwar. The Kuruba community has around 30,000 votes in Koratagere constituency in Tumkur and Parameshwar lost by 18,000 votes. Everyone in the party is well aware of this.”
The Congress won 121 seats of 223 seats in the assembly elections.
What has come as a surprise for the Congress is the fact that voting by and large has not been on caste lines. The Lingayat community, which has been traditionally supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and constitutes 18 per cent of the electorate, voted in favour of the Congress in large numbers this time.
In the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, BJP got only four seats, while the Congress bagged 20. Last time, BJP had got 19 seats. In Central Karnataka, BJP won only three seats, while the Congress doubled its tally from last time’s 14. In the Mumbai-Karnataka region, again, BJP’s tally has decimated to 13 from 33, while Congress has nearly tripled its numbers to 31 seats.