On the morning of July 29 when the first of 42 Congress MLAs from Gujarat began arriving at the Eagleton Golf Resort in Bengaluru, Karnataka’s 55-year-old Energy Minister D K Shivakumar was away in Singapore on a holiday. In the run-up to the arrival of the Gujarat MLAs, there were reports suggesting that the Congress leadership was looking towards some powerful ministers in Karnataka for help in protecting the Gujarat flock. There had reportedly been few takers for the risky venture since many seasoned ministers feared it would attract IT raids.
Eventually, D K Shivakumar, an aspirant to the Chief Minister’s post, who hasn’t been particularly happy about being assigned the rather inconsequential task of being the campaign committee chairman of the Congress in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly polls in Karnataka, stepped up to take the risk by sheltering the Gujarat Congress MLAs. It was not the first time the Congress was turning to Shivakumar to handle a difficult situation.
In the past, he had delivered on protecting Congress MLAs from Karnataka and Maharashtra, and in poll campaigns in hostile territory for the Congress — like the Gowda heartland in south Karnataka controlled by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda and his sons. A day after the Gujarat MLAs arrived in Bengaluru to be received by Shivakumar’s brother D K Suresh, an MP from Bengaluru Rural, the Energy Minister himself arrived at the resort cutting his “Singapore holiday’’ short. When the MLAs were paraded before the media on July 31, the lone figure from Karnataka was D K Shivakumar.
Despite his ability in delivering the goods for the Congress on many occasions, Shivakumar is a controversial figure on account of what many call his “aggression and devil-may-care attitude” to those who do not swear allegiance to him. Seen as a blue-eyed boy of former Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna, he hit the big time as one of the youngest ministers — he got the powerful Urban Development portfolio — in the Krishna-led Congress government between 1999-2003.
Ahead of the Assembly polls in 2013, Shivakumar was one of the wealthiest candidates having declared a total wealth of Rs 251 crore. Some of Bengaluru’s top real-estate companies were among dozens of firms and individuals shown in his election affidavit as having loaned money to the Congress leader. His critics raised questions about mining of granite, iron ore and several real-estate deals allegedly revolving around dozens of companies floated by him and his associates.
When the Congress came to power in 2013 with Siddaramaiah — whom Shivakumar helped lure from the Janata Dal Secular party in 2007 — as chief minister, there was buzz that Shivakumar was kept out because of critics’ allegations of corruption. He was eventually inducted in the Cabinet. The Congress high command’s unhappiness with Shivakumar in the past has also extended to his alliance with BJP leaders like B S Yeddyurappa and G Janardhan Reddy to allegedly further his own business and political interests when the BJP was in power between 2008-2013.
However, Shivakumar’s standing as one of the few strong leaders from the dominant Vokkaliga community after the exit of Krishna has ensured that he is never permanently sidelined. He has also been one of the few Congress leaders to stand up to the hegemony of Vokkaliga strongman H D Deve Gowda and his family in southern Karnataka. Between 2006 and 2007 when the JDS was in power in Karnataka, Shivakumar frequently brought to light alleged instances of corruption involving Deve Gowda’s son H D Kumaraswamy who was the CM. Shivakumar and his associates helped BJP leader and Bellary illegal iron ore baron Janardhan Reddy take on Kumaraswamy in 2006.
One reason why Shivakumar — who was expecting to be the Congress president going into the assembly polls of 2018 — has been sidelined recently is the fact that his presence as a Congress leader would close the doors on the possibility of any alliance with the JDS. Wednesday’s IT search on properties owned by Shivakumar is reportedly the third instance in the last two decades when his wealth has come under scrutiny. In January this year, two sugar factories owned by close associates of Shivakumar, including a minister, were found to be holding Rs 162 crore in undisclosed assets by the income tax department. The probe had found that loans amounting to Rs 530 crore were granted to the factories by a group of state run co-operative banks.