Opinion: Opinion: From Madhya Pradesh To Rajasthan To Karnataka, Congress’s HR Mess
The Congress’s decision on its Karnataka tangle almost coincided with the Supreme Court judgment backing the amendments to laws in three states to allow the traditional bull-taming sports of Jallikattu and Kambala.After the Congress victory on May 13, 135 jubilant MLAs passed a one-line resolution authorising the Congress president, Mallikarjun Kharge, to decide who will lead the party’s government in Bengaluru. But the one-liner could not deter the virtual “Jallikattu” that ensued between the party’s two top Karnataka leaders. Mallikarjun Kharge was perhaps the first party chief anywhere in the world to say that he will consult the “High Command” (read: Sonia Gandhi and her family).As Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had withdrawn to the pristine heights of Shimla after their successful campaign in the southern state, Rahul Gandhi, who was in Delhi, emerged as the virtual High Command. Rivals Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar met with him at Sonia Gandhi’s home, 10 Janpath. It is to Rahul Gandhi’s credit that he has driven to Mallikarjun Kharge’s 10 Rajaji Marg Road for discussions ever since the veteran was elected Congress chief. He did so this time too.Rahul Gandhi’s preference for Siddaramaiah was widely talked about. But the Jallikattu was allowed to linger and Kharge continued confabulating alternatively with the two contenders.G Parameshwara’s name also popped up in media speculation. Late on May 17, Sonia Gandhi is understood to have broken her silence – her telephone call to DK Shivakumar is said to have done the trick.Earlier in the day, Randeep Surjewala had told the media that a decision was likely in “48 or 72 hours”. The decision was announced by midday on May 18. Siddaramaiah carried the day. DK Shivakumar was assured that he will be Deputy Chief Minister and will continue as Karnataka Congress chief till the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.G Parameshwara was tasked with the job of conveying to Karnataka Governor Thawar Chand Gehlot the Congress decision. All’s well that ends well. However, the power struggle which unfolded over four days has once again exposed chinks in the Congress’s Human Resources (HR) management.Karnataka Congress leader BK Hariprasad had told the media on May 14 that prior to MLAs adopting the one-line resolution, a secret ballot had been conducted by central observers like veteran Maharashtra leader Sushil Kumar Shinde. Hariprasad did not disclose the details of the polling but sources indicate that 84 of the 135 MLAs favoured Siddaramiah. 34 supported Shivakumar and 17 votes went to Parameshwara. Had these figures been disclosed, even subtly, the free-for-all may have been averted.In 2018, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot had overwhelming numbers (Sachin Pilot’s revolt could draw only 21 MLAs). Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh bested TS Singh Deo. In Madhya Pradesh, the majority favoured Kamal Nath (he was toppled when Jyotiraditya Scindia walked away with his band of 23).The Congress High Command did not disclose these revealing numbers in 2018 and the fallout in these three states is well known. Poor HR management and lack of transparency can cause lingering side effects. Unlike in the days when stalwarts dominated the Congress, today the party has a fair sprinkling of dwarfs who are tasked with crisis management. And their performance is dismal.Having defeated the BJP on the “40 percent sarkara” plank, Congress had little choice. Even if Shivakumar was to be rewarded for having led a successful party unit, with a pending disproportionate assets case (which is coming up before Karnataka High Court on May 23 after the Supreme Court sent the matter back to Bengaluru earlier this week), naming him Chief Minister would have weakened the very basis of its victory.Siddaramaiah, whose moorings were in the Socialist Party, joined the Congress from HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) in 2006, and was appointed Deputy Chief Minister. In 2013, he was elevated as Chief Minister. When he came to power, Congress had 36 per cent vote share. In 2018 when Congress lost the Karnataka election, the party’s votes went up to 38% (in 2023: 43%).The rise in Congress votes is attributed to the AHINDA support. (Ahinda is Kannada acronym for Alpasankhyataru or minorities, Hindulidavaru or backward classes, and Dalitaru or Dalits) – a political terminology coined by the Karnataka state’s first backward leader Devraj Urs in the 1970s. Siddaramaiah reinvigorated the Ahinda plank. There were no allegations against him when he demitted office in 2018. So, Siddaramaiah fit the bill post the “40 percent sarkara” campaign.The video of 76-year-old Siddaramaiah breaking into a sprint with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra went viral. Apart from probity, his secular credentials also helped him win Rahul Gandhi’s support. When the Bajrang Dal controversy was used by the BJP to embarrass Congress, Shivakumar tried to outdo the BJP by promising that Anjaneya (Hanuman) temples will be built in all towns. Siddaramaiah remained silent. After the Congress victory Shivakumar was seen seeking blessings from seers at Tumkur’s Siddaganga Mutt. There was no such show of religiosity from Siddaramaiah.Shivakumar was seen carrying a bouquet for Rahul Gandhi when he went to 10 Janpath. Siddaramaiah went sans flowers. But the bouquet came to him.The undercurrents in the Congress headquarters in Delhi were interesting. Kharge seemed to dilly-dally. In 2013, Siddaramaiah was chosen over him to be Chief Minister. In 1999, SM Krishna, and in 2004, Dharam Singh pipped him at the post. So, Kharge’s possible reservations about Siddaramaiah would be understandable.But sources say that Kharge told Shivakumar before the announcement was finally made, that he had been denied the post thrice in the past but his perseverance and loyalty to the party paid off.The composition of the new Karnataka ministry will be an uphill task. During the Congress’s power tussle, it was said that more than one Deputy Chief Minister could be appointed to accommodate the aspirations of various communities. Now that Shivakumar will be the “only” Deputy Chief Minister, conflicting interests will have to be managed.During the Karnataka campaign, Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar worked in tandem. Will that symphony last?(Shubhabrata Bhattacharya is a retired Editor and a public affairs commentator.)Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.