For the past few weeks, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been trying to convince anybody who was willing to listen that he is the chief minister of the state and will remain so. The Congress high command in Delhi has been unhappy with Siddu, as he is popularly called, for a number of reasons, the latest one being the government tender that his son’s firm was awarded in blatant violation of laws and propriety.
Two names have now emerged as front-runners for the chief minister’s post as it has been more or less decided by Delhi that Siddaramaiah should go. While former Karnataka chief minister S M Krishna is said to be lobbying with Congress president Sonia Gandhi – he met her last week and promised to revive the party in two years and also raise funds – the party has veered around to the idea of appointing a Dalit leader as the CM. Karnataka Home Minister G Parameshwara is said to be the candidate of choice. Krishna is a Vokkaliga and age is not on his side. Parameshwara met Sonia Gandhi in Delhi last week.
Siddaramaiah, who wanted to meet Sonia Gandhi on April 23, wasn’t able to do so due to the party president’s “prior engagements”.
Political sources in Delhi and Bangalore told Mumbai Mirror that the ideal choice for the CM’s post is former labour minister and present leader of opposition in Parliament Mallikarjun Kharge. “But he is the most important man in Delhi now. With just 44 MPs, he makes the presence of Congress felt. He alone has put the Modi government on the mat,” a Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity.
May is going to be a crucial month for Siddaramaiah, a senior Congress leader said. His meeting with Sonia Gandhi – if it happens – will set the course for Karnataka politics.
“A change of guard is on the cards and might happen between May 15 and 20. Although Krishna’s name is doing the rounds, Parameshwara could be the one who lands the job,” the senior party leader said.
Siddaramaiah fell on hard times after he accepted a Hublot watch – worth over Rs 70 lakh – from a friend and “admirer” Dr Girish Chandra Varma. After a furore over the expensive gift, Siddaramaiah said the watch will be treated as a state treasure. Weeks later, he disbanded the Lokayukta police wing and set up an Anti-Corruption Bureau which was to report to him. Again, there was a hue and cry but Siddu did not budge.
Although there have been murmurs of corruption surrounding the CM after he denotified land worth crores in Arkavathy Layout in favour of certain individuals – even when applicants have been waiting for decades to get their allotted alnd in the layout – it has always been brushed aside by the party. But the final nail in the coffin was the tender that his son’s firm, Matrix Solutions Ltd, was granted by the Karnataka government. The tender entailed setting up a private lab in Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana super-specialty hospital.
Around a fortnight back, senior Congress leader H Viswanath wrote a strongly worded letter to the party command about Siddu and Digvijaya Singh, party in-charge of Karnataka.
Vishwanath, considered Siddu’s mentor, is said to be the man responsible for bringing Siddaramaiah back into the Congress fold after he left for H D Deve Gowda’s JD (S). His letter, which asked for “clean” names for the party’s leadership, set alarm bells ringing in the party in Delhi.
Parameshwara seems to be the party’s favourite candidate as a recent leaked caste census shows that Dalits are the largest community in Karnataka. He has a clean image and hasn’t been involved in any controversies. Installing a Dalit as CM will also help the party’s chances in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh which go to polls early next year.
With B S Yeddyurappa returning as BJP president – he is said to have PM Modi and Amit Shah’s blessing – the possibility of the Lingayat strongman routing the Congress in the next elections is being considered a reality. The Congress does not want to take any chances and is all set for course-correction over the next two years.