Updated: July 4, 2022 10:21:56 am
A proposed grand celebration of his 75th birthday on August 3, which will have Rahul Gandhi in attendance, will not be a show of support he enjoys in the Congress party as well as across the political spectrum in Karnataka, the Leader of Opposition and ex-chief minister, Siddaramaiah, said in Bengaluru on Saturday.
His remarks have come in the backdrop of some concern among his Congress rivals that he may project himself as the foremost Congress leader in the state, and a possible CM candidate, over the next few months even as other party leaders with chief ministerial aspirations have been pushing the narrative of “collective leadership”.
“I will be turning 75 on August 3 this year. My friends and well-wishers feel that this is a special occasion and want to celebrate it publicly. I have not celebrated my birthday in the past and do not intend to do so in the future as well,” Siddaramaiah said. “My friends and well-wishers have decided to celebrate. They feel it is an important milestone. I will also participate. It is not going to be a festival or a show of strength against anyone. Who should I carry out a show of strength against?”
He pointed to the BJP veteran and ex-CM B S Yediyurappa also holding a public event for his 75th birthday a few years ago with many leaders (including Siddaramaiah) attending it.
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“All state leaders of the Congress party, our leader Rahul Gandhi will participate. Surjewala and Venugopal (Congress functionaries) have been invited. I am inviting the people of the state, including the BJP through the media,” Siddaramaiah said referring to his birthday event.
The Karnataka Congress is expected to experience internal pangs due to intra-party rivalries in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly polls, when the party hopes to return to power after a loss in the 2018 elections.
The most serious bone of contention is expected to be over the selection of party candidates for the Assembly polls on account of their affiliation to different leaders. In the post-poll scenario, a leader who gets the support of the maximum number of loyalist MLAs will be the front-runner for the CM’s post with the backing of the party high command.
“There has been an intense rivalry between the state Congress president D K Shivakumar and the legislative party leader Siddaramaiah. They have been called by the central leadership to Delhi on many occasions to iron out their differences. There is some understanding (between them) now,” said a party worker privy to these developments.
According to Congress sources, there are fears in the party that Shivakumar may not work enthusiastically for the coming polls if he does not perceive himself to be in the CM race. “There has been a proposal for sharing the tenure of the CM with Siddaramaiah serving for half a term and DKS for the second half – but it is all too premature,” sources said.
“We believe in collective leadership. I do not believe in leader worship or the worship of individuals. I believe in the worship of the party. We are all here because of the party,” Shivakumar had said in April at a Congress meeting attended by Gandhi, who had then said that the party unity would be key to deciding its prospects in the 2023 Karnataka polls.
“The biggest issue is that all of you must fight unitedly. This is your biggest responsibility. You are doing it to some extent. You will have to do it with more intensity. All must work together to get 150 seats,” Gandhi had told the meeting while calling for Shivakumar, Siddaramaiah, party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge and other leaders to sink their differences and mobilise the party.
Recently, in response to a query on party rivalries, Siddaramaiah claimed, “We have no differences and there are no rival camps in our party. There are no differences to the extent that it can cause serious damage to the party. In a democracy, there are bound to be differences of opinion.’’
While the collective leadership pitch has been frequently made by the state Congress leaders there have also been some discordant notes struck by Siddaramaiah’s supporters like ex-minister Zameer Ahmed who has on occasions gone on to claim that the Opposition leader will become the CM again after the 2023 polls. On his part Siddaramaiah said, “My supporters say these things out of affection. The party will decide who will be CM.”
Shivakumar is a member of the dominant Vokkaliga community from south Karnataka, while Siddaramaiah belongs to the backward class Kuruba community.
The Congress also has a slew of other leaders including Kharge, a Dalit, M B Patil, a Lingayat, and Satish Jarkiholi, a tribal, who are also CM contenders in the event of the party’s poll victory.
Siddaramaiah was the CM during 2013-2018 in what was a populist tenure that did not see major allegations of corruption. He enjoys a significant but diffused popularity even as the Congress would be dependent on all leaders pulling their weight to win the next polls. A rivalry between Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar has been a matter of concern in Congress circles but the duo, who seem to have come together in the party interest, are bound to lock horns in the run-up to the polls.
Shivakumar, who has worked to ensure discipline and structure in the state Congress organisation since his appointment as its chief in 2020, has been plagued by cases of alleged money laundering and acquisition of disproportionate wealth, which have been pending against him. This has given Siddaramaiah an opportunity to again put himself in a pole position in the CM race.
Siddaramaiah is however not considered a “real Congressman” by party old-timers on account of the fact that he joined the party only in 2006 after decades of association with the Janata Parivar.
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