In a significant moment for the Congress and its efforts to come to power again in Karnataka, two senior leaders of the party – former chief minister Siddaramaiah and state party president D K Shivakumar – put up a display of bonhomie in the presence of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. The occasion was the 75th birthday celebrations of Siddaramaiah in Davangere on Wednesday.
With Rahul watching, the two Congress leaders – who are seen to be in the race for the CM post should the Congress win the polls in 2023 – hugged each other and dismissed talk of differences between them. The power tussle in the party is expected to be a decisive factor for the Congress’s prospects in the Assembly elections.
Speaking at Siddaramaiah’s birthday rally in Davangere in central Karnataka that saw over five lakh people in attendance, Rahul said, “I am very happy to see Siddaramaiahji and D K Shivakumar hugging each other. After he became party president, Shivakumar has worked hard to build the organisation.”
“The Congress has united to defeat the BJP and RSS. They take wealth away from the people and give it to a few wealthy people. We give the wealth of the nation to the people,” he said.
During Rahul’s visit to Karnataka in April, he had called for unity among leaders and workers following reports of severe differences between party chief Shivakumar and Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah.
The relationship between the two sparring leaders had worsened following the announcement of Siddaramaiah’s birthday being celebrated in a grand manner by his supporters. Shivakumar had stated that the party does not believe in worshiping individuals but changed his position after central leaders such as Rahul and general secretary K C Venugopal backed Siddaramaiah’s birthday celebrations .
Speaking at the event on Wednesday, Shivakumar said Siddaramaiah was not just a leader of the backward classes but a leader for all communities. “I wish him the strength to serve the state for many more years. In 2013, when the Congress party came to power, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi appointed Siddaramaiah as the chief minister. He took oath on the day of Basava Jayanthi. The philosophy of Basavanna is the philosophy of the Congress party,” Shivakumar said.
The state Congress chief also claimed that he was moved when the idea of celebrating Siddaramaiah’s birthday was proposed. “Siddaramaiah and I, and the leaders present here cannot bring the Congress to power on our own. We need the support of all the people to remove this corrupt (BJP) government and install a Congress government,” he said.
When it was his turn to speak, Siddaramaiah rubbished reports of differences between him and Shivakumar. “For a long time, the Opposition and the media have been saying that Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar are opposed to each other. This is false information. We are together. There are no differences,” Siddaramaiah claimed while thanking Rahul and Sonia Gandhi for their support.
Nearly five lakh people are reported to have attended the birthday celebrations in Davangere.
A 3-km-long cloth banner with photographs of Siddaramaiah, a music album with songs in his praise, and a meal for five lakh supporters were among the highlights of the celebrations. .
The celebrations, put together by supporters of the former CM, were meant to display the popular support Siddaramaiah enjoyed as well as signal that he enjoys significant financial clout as the party prepares for the 2023 state polls
While it backed the birthday celebrations, the Congress leadership also tried to downplay the focus on the event with Rahul and Venugopal visiting a Lingayat mutt in the region.
Reacting to the birthday celebrations, Chief Minister and BJP leader Basavaraj Bommai said, “We have nothing to worry about Siddarama Utsava. We are devotees of God Siddarama (a Lingayat saint).”