As Prime Minister Narendra Modi homes in on the nine men and women he must bring in to shore up his cabinet to make himself poll ready in 18 months time, when he will perforce have to face the people of India over the slowing economy and the sharp drop in GDP - and wary, surely, of the fate that befell even someone as popular and beloved as Atal Behari Vajpayee our very own Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, with both eyes locked on the polls knows he has a much, much shorter window. Eight months.
That’s all the time he has to secure the city and the state, his vote base, his reputation and his legacy (aka as his son). That’s a tall order.
Unlike the prime minister who has the steely eyed Amit Shah to crack the whip, turf out the closet anti Modiists and get all the lax and wayward saffronists to fall in line their overnight resignations an eye opener ahead of this Sunday’s shuffle - Siddaramaiah may have alienated his backroom boy the state party chief Dr. G. Parameshwar. If, that is, he ever had him in the first place...
At Saturday’s swearing in where Siddaramaiah brought in his Lingayat-Kuruba-Dalit triple into the cabinet, Parameshwar was conspicuous by his absence as were diehard Congressmen, H.K.Patil and D.K.Shivakumar.
The KPCC chief is known to have taken his complaint to the party veep Rahul Gandhi before on how his advice as the state party chief is never taken on board. And today, with the manner in which the chief minister brought Mr. Thimmapur into the cabinet and not Dr. Parameshwar’s nominee, Motamma or his Lingayat pick, Mr. Shadakshari, it is a complaint that’s doubly reinforced. D.K. incidentally, is as close to Mr. Shadakshari as Dr. G is.
Except, why Dr. G was under the impression he would be heard and not the CM, is a mystery. Surely, the CM couldn’t have gone ahead with the cabinet expansion without a nod from Delhi. A state cabinet reshuffle is the CM's prerogative, not the KPCC chief's. Did the KPCC chief believe he was going to get his own way on this? He’s no Himachal's Virabhadra Singh either. Virbhadra Singh, with the solid backing of 27 of the 36 MLAs in the House, can threaten to leave and be taken seriously. With all due respect, if Dr. G does walk out - and there is enormous scepticism over whether he will take that path – will anyone follow him? Is there a Dr. G group? D.K. Shivakumar isn’t a happy man either. Nor is, many are saying, Mallikarjun Kharge. But will they break the Congress over a cabinet berth?
There's no doubt that Dr. G would be a huge asset to BJP’s ‘Mission Karnataka 150’ plan. Who knows the Congress from the inside, with all its attendant strengths and weaknesses, as well as Dr. G? But then again, would a diehard Congressman like Parameshwar, however unhappy, cut the umbilical cord with his mother party?
And it's not that Dr. Parameshwar hasn’t been in a blue funk before. He knew, better than most, that losing that last election from Koratagere in 2013 from his own backyard of Tumakuru could have been no accident. He was set up for a fall so that he would pose no threat to the emergence of Mr. Siddaramaiah as the chief ministerial candidate. The whys and the wherefores are for another time. But suffice it to say that if Motamma’s cabinet entry was meant to be the quid pro quo, for shoring up his credentials in Mudigere and ensuring a victory from the SC reserved seat in Chikkamagaluru district that Dr. Parameshwar was said to be eyeing, that was destined to be shot down. Motamma in the cabinet, a no-brainer.
He’s now put Plan B into action, and could be homing in on Pulekashinagar in Bengaluru, which has a high concentration of minorities who traditionally back the Congress. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a salve that the chief minister will be willing to apply to Dr G’s wounded ego.
The KPCC chief’s chief ministerial ambitions or for that matter, angling for the post of the deputy CM are no secret. Parameshwar’s caste credentials also work in his favour. His erudition and his leadership qualities, no less a plus point. But Siddaramaiah has his own agenda. A man who didn’t go to school till he was ten and then when he did, topped his class right through school and college, as he himself recounted at his school reunion, is not to be scoffed at. His grit, ambition and the manner in which he scripts his every move is an eye-opener. This is not a rash man who rushes in where angels fear to tread… Look at the manner in which he gave cabinet rank to Priyank Kharge, calculated to head off father Mallikarjun Kharge’s anger over bringing an SC left over an SC right.
Look at Siddu’s sleight of hand in dangling the prospect before the BJP - desperate for an issue to rally the faithful - of making Ramanath Rai, the home minister, by holding a closed door meeting with the Bantwal biggie and then quietly appointing Ramalinga Reddy to the post. In one stroke, he’s taken the air out of the BJP’s Mangaluru Chalo rally that was meant to stoke the fires in the SFI versus RSS battle and consolidate the Hindu vote.
That said, the TA-DA scandal may be a gamble gone wrong. For eight MLCs five of whom are from the Congress - to allegedly submit fake Travel and Dearness allowance forms that carry their hastily added fake addresses in the Bengaluru municipal area that enabled them to vote in the Mayoral election when they actually come from the districts, is a bad move. It smacks of desperation. There may be no legal ramifications. And yes, our new Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu may have done it. The venerable former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, (who as former RBI governor, and former Finance Minister called DeMo and GST for what they were wreckers of the Indian economy) may have done it too.
But is this the kind of fudge, you want to be known for? Or is it anything goes, this election year....