The Congress high command has taken the safest option by naming Siddaramaiah as the leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka legislative assembly by ignoring the other claimants to the post.
Siddaramaiah has been named not only the leader of the Congress legislature party but has also been given the post of leader of the opposition in a move that is bound to bolster the party in the upcoming by-elections to the 15 constituencies.
His re-nomination to the post has again established that the Congress has recognised the only mass leader in its ranks and decided to go ahead with him in the state where political uncertainty is bound to exist, at least, until the by-elections.
The by-elections are an opportunity for the three formations, the BJP, the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) to take another shot at power. In the event of the Congress and the JDS winning a majority of the seats, the possibility of the coalition partners again joining hands for power cannot be ruled out in its entirety. For the BJP, these by-elections would mean consolidation of power for chief minister BS Yediyurappa.
“There were complaints of his deciding on certain matters without consulting some senior leaders. That is not the only fault. He has several flaws but, at the same time, we should not forget that he is the only leader who has a direct connect with the masses,” said a leader who is a known critic of Siddaramaiah on condition of anonymity.
“In fact, the state has just two leaders who have such a connect. The BJP has BS Yediyurappa, the chief minister, and the Congress has Siddaramaiah. It would have been foolish on the part of the high command, if it had ignored him,” said another leader who also did not want to be named.
One of these leaders was part of the group who had barged into the chambers of the AICC general secretary Madhusudhan Mistry who had been especially sent from Delhi to assess the mood of the legislators given that two important leaders, HK Patil and Dr G Parameshwara had thrown their claims in to be chosen as leader of the opposition in the assembly.
The two leaders adopted different strategies. Patil was his non-controversial self by presenting his record as a loyal Congressman who had excelled both when in government and out of it. It was he who had blocked the sale of land to a private steel company during the tenure of the coalition government. Dr Parameshwara’s claims appeared more on the lines of Siddaramaiah cannot have the cake and eat it too, all the time.
But then the party high command must have looked at the misjudgement that led to two important leaders in two important states, Odisha and Jharkhand, leaving the party to join or launch regional parties. Bhakta Charan Das of Odisha and Ajay Kumar of Jharkhand have left for regional outfits. The fate of Ashok Tanwar in Haryana is still not known but he has left the Congress.
This is why the selection of Siddaramaiah as the leader of the opposition is significant. Unlike the battle of wits in other states between the old guard and the young guard or those who were promoted by Rahul Gandhi, in the case of Karnataka, the Congress high command has preferred to go with Siddaramaiah in its battle against the BJP.
Siddaramaiah’s tweet was not without significance. He thanked Sonia Gandhi as any Congressman would do. But he added a sentence after that which was: “I am honoured by her (Sonia Gandhi) faith in me,” Siddaramaiah wrote. He has also mentioned that “all Congressmen will work to strengthen the party and expose the failures of the BJP government.”
His appointment comes at a critical point when the Assembly begins its short session on Friday. The session is expected to see a lot of fireworks because the Centre has given a meagre Rs 1200 crore for flood relief when the state was demanding upwards of Rs 30,000 crore from the Centre. After the visits of the union home minister Amit Shah and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Centre had even despatched a team of officials to submit its report.
After more than the necessary pillaring of the BJP government in the state, including the first anti-Modi statement from a BJP legislator, over the undue delay the Centre released that paltry amount.
“We never expected this kind of amount when we were assured of funds being released soon,” said a disillusioned BJP leader who spoke strictly on condition of anonymity. But it is dawning on more and more party men that the delay in the release of funds was more because Yediyurappa was heading the party government.