Nation Politics 01 Jul 2018 State of play: When ...
Neena Gopal is Resident Editor, Deccan Chronicle, Bengaluru

State of play: When all roads led to Ujire… and back

Published Jul 1, 2018, 6:56 am IST
Updated Jul 1, 2018, 6:56 am IST
The Congress is actually powerless in this game of political one-upmanship.
Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah
 Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah

In defeat, defiance! That’s what Winston Churchill said. And that’s clearly the dictum that our erstwhile chief minister Mr. Siddaramaiah has adopted, as he licked his electoral wounds at a nature cure retreat, after a bruising election campaign where he fell short by a critical 20 odd seats. And failed to score…

Even in defeat though, he has everyone riveted. All eyes were on Mr. Siddaramaiah and nobody else, as his rivals both within the Congress and in the rival JD(S) and BJP computed the numbers of the men he had at his command, based on the trickle of supporters who made the quiet detour to Ujire.


Everyone watched, consumed by the freewheeling, off the cuff conversations that were being taped and clearly being leaked - with or without Mr Siddaramaiah’s knowledge - with one motive and one motive only – show that he was still a force to be reckoned with, and p*****g him off wasn’t the way to go, if the unlikely union of the Janata Dal (S) and Congress was to last, let alone survive.

 One of the star visitors who attracted attention was the JD(S) ‘big brother’ Mr. H.D. Revanna. That may or may not have been a courtesy call, given the story that DC broke of how the two men had planned to put together a government that would have given Mr. Siddaramaiah a second shot at being the Congress chief minister with JD(S) support before the poll results had been called; except, neither JD(S) patriarch Mr. H.D Deve Gowda nor Mr. Siddaramaiah’s detractors were going to give him the upper hand again.

 The current Deputy Chief Minister in this month old Congress-JD(S) dispensation, Dr. G. Parameshwar’s visit was as intriguing, particularly as the conversation between the two arch-rivals – promptly leaked –  had Siddu asking him why he was being so supportive of the JD(S)’ every move including the smaller party’s transfers and postings of government bureaucrats, that everyone knows is the proverbial fifth column, the eyes and ears of JD(S) patriarch Mr. H.Deve Gowda. That was as much of an eye-opener as the one that he had with the Kuruba matha swamiji and another visitor - when asked how long he thought the coalition government would last, and Siddu’s answer – only up to the Lok Sabha polls!

That could be six months from today!  Some 48 hours ago, Congress stalwart Mallikarjun Kharge came out in public with what everyone’s been saying sotto voce – the BJP government at the centre has every intention of calling for simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly polls this coming December. Given its successive bypoll reverses, the BJP cannot afford to lose its hold over the three pollbound states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, all BJP-held, when its southern foray has not really been a success.

Either way, last guest count at Ujire, before Siddu wrapped it all up with a dutiful temple visit on Thursday, was two ministers, ten or eleven sitting MLAs and sundry supporters. That’s a grand total of 13 in government, and another 10 who don’t hold office. This is based on the people who actually visited him. It doesn’t include the obvious standouts like M.B.Patil & Co who didn’t attend the Ujire Darbar. Which way will they go when push comes to shove, only time will tell

For someone who isn’t even head of the state anymore, this much, must be said – the Kuruba strongman hit the headlines in far more dramatic fashion than any of those who hold public office today.

So where is all of this leading? What did the numbers game actually add up to? What is Mr. Siddaramaiah going to do with this less than muscular show of strength? Or is 12-13 all that he needs for the threat he holds out – cut me any further and I walk!

Clearly, he has spent the last fortnight, weighing the options before him. The most outrageous speculation is that a sidelined Siddaramaiah has 50 odd legislators whom he can call his own, and will engineer the resignation of 13 Congress MLAs to bring the government down, and pave the way for President’s Rule. This, insiders say, is what the BJP wants, so that Karnataka is under central rule when it goes to the polls, rather than have a B.S. Yeddyurappa government, as no BJP government will be able to deliver, given the deep divisions and rivalries that already have the saffron party leaders openly undercutting the other; demonstrated by the loss of both bypolls in the city.

 It’s a theory that has done the rounds on social media, and has been dissected and scoffed at by diehard Congress watchers who say the last thing the socialist leaning, Lohia spouting Siddaramaiah will do is nudge open the state’s doors for a saffron takeover, notwithstanding his new right-leaning stance, as in the Dharamasthala temple visit.

So, will he quit the Congress and take political sanyas? Unlikely.  If he does quit the party, will his supporters follow? Pointless. The Speaker is a diehard Congressman and he will perforce do the right thing – expel all of them from the party. While its true that within the Congress, most of the old guard are ‘frenemies’ who nurse a grudge at being kept on the sidelines, and see this coalition government as the only chance they have of making good on their electoral investment, the former CM may be best served if he stays put and finds a way to out-Deve Gowda, the JD(S) head honcho. Could the Revanna visit be about splitting the JD(S)?

The Congress is actually powerless in this game of political one-upmanship. The battle is between two men who epitomized the Janata Pariwar of old. Both know the other’s strength and weaknesses. And Mr Deve Gowda meeting the BJP’s Lehar Singh who has a direct line to the BJP top brass was a message that if the Congress gave Siddaramaiah a free hand, the Gowdas had the ever willing BJP to fall back on.

As someone said, 2018 could as well be 1994 when chief ministers in waiting, who had missed the bus, pulled the Veerappa Moily government down. The more things change….

Location: India, Karnataka, Bengaluru