Former Karnataka chief minister S M Krishna announced the end of his 46-year-old “dream run” with the Congress party last week. The sudden decision by the 84-year-old former chief minister, former Maharashtra Governor, former external affairs minister and former Speaker to quit the Congress has perplexed political observers. Krishna has cited his sidelining by the Congress party on age considerations as the primary reason for his decision to quit the Congress party. He stated that his sidelining started in 2012 when he was forced to quit as external affairs minister.
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While there has been speculation over the reasons why Krishna was asked to step down as foreign minister in 2012 – including age related lapses in memory and alleged issues of conflict of interest – the exact reason is not in the public domain.
So, one of the questions boggling the minds of political observers now is why exactly the aging Congress leader has chosen the current point in time to leave the Congress party. Is he being driven by the constant yearning for position – seen among people who have tasted power – or is he trying to protect the interests of somebody close to him by seeking out a safe shore to rest for a while?
A little bit of both is the answer that is emerging from the ranks of the Congress party in Karnataka.
One of the explanations emerging is that the former chief minister of Karnataka has decided to move out of the Congress to protect the interests of his family in the light of the NDA government targetting political rivals and their business interests in a wider attempt to stifle poll funding. One of Krishna’s daughters is married to the owner of the Coffee Day chain who also has interests in real estate and other sectors and another daughter is married to Vijay Mallya’s step brother.
Since he announced his decision to quit the Congress party, several top leaders of the BJP in Karnataka have said they would welcome Krishna into the party fold with open arms. There is talk that these open arms are the culmination of four months of behind the scene efforts. There is also talk of the suave former Maharashtra governor being offered a chance to be the president of India or the vice president when the posts fall vacant during the tenure of the NDA.
Whether the BJP which has sidelined its own veterans by making them marga darshaks will be interested in giving out doles to other veterans is in doubt. There is no doubt though that with Krishna, a leader of the dominant Vokkaliga community in south Karnataka, on its side, the thin BJP leadership in south Karnataka will get some muscle.
And what of the Congress? The exit of Krishna is expected to see other sidelined Congress leaders in Karnataka gravitate towards the former chief minister especially on caste lines in the old Mysore region. However, several of Krishna’s former loyalists – like D K Shivakumar a contender for the post of state Congress president and the home minister G Parameshwara who is the incumbent state Congress president – have become leaders in their own right in the Congress party and do not seem likely to follow Krishna in leaving the Congress. Some analysts are however of the view that Krishna’s exit could cost the Congress heavily. “It is like an iceberg – what you see on the surface is not what lies underneath,” claimed a Vokkaliga community observer of the situation.
The exit of Krishna is expected to leave the impression that the Congress is anti Vokkaliga creating divisions on community lines in the grassroots support system for the Congress in south Karnataka. This could force the Congress to promote another Vokkaliga face as a future leader. Only the political steps S M Krishna takes in the run up to the 2018 assembly polls in Karnataka can provide a clearer picture of the consequences of his exit from the Congress party.