Senior Congress leader D K Shivakumar, entrusted the task of guarding party MLAs for four days in Bengaluru and Hyderabad, was dressed in a dhoti and kurta — instead of his usual garb of cotton kurta and pyjamas — when he walked into the Karnataka Assembly on Saturday for the trust vote.
Former chief minister Siddaramaiah ribbed Shivakumar outside the Assembly hall about his unusual attire for the occasion. “I could not go home. I had this traditional wear in the suitcase that I have been carrying around for the past few days. I wore it,” Shivakumar smiled.
The 53-year-old was the hero of the hour for the Congress on Saturday, having managed to keep the party’s MLAs together. With the results weakening the position of outgoing chief minister Siddaramaiah, and with an aggressive BJP on the hunt, the Congress had turned to Shivakumar to keep the party afloat as it pushed for an alliance with the JD(S).
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While Shivakumar had proved adept at this game even in last year’s Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, there were doubts over whether he would be interested in the present assignment. After all, he was being asked to forget a personal battle of years with fellow Vokkaliga H D Deve Gowda and son H D Kumaraswamy, in order to make the latter the CM. However, within hours of the Congress laying its cards on the table, Shivakumar was on board.
He scored first with the three Independents who had won, arriving with one of them to Raj Bhavan just when the Congress was staking claim to form a government with JD(S). Shivakumar grabbed H Nagesh, Independent MLA from Mulbagal, before anyone else could.
Over the next four days, he would remain central to the task of safekeeping the 78 Congress MLAs and the two other Independents who would follow Nagesh.
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“I have handled these responsibilities in the past. I did it when Vilasrao Deshmukh was in Maharashtra and there was a crisis. I have taken care of Gujarat MLAs, and I have taken a lot of risk…. My leaders are there, God is there, and justice is there,” he had said earlier.
In August 2017, when Shivakumar, then the state energy minister, had taken over the task of protecting 43 Gujarat MLAs ahead of a Rajya Sabha election where BJP president Amit Shah had pitted his might against Congress candidate Ahmed Patel, the Income Tax department had carried out searches on 60 premises linked to him. One of those was Eagleton Golf Resort, where Shivakumar had kept the MLAs, and where he kept MLAs this time too for two days.
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“Anything can happen in politics. There are all kinds of vindictive habits. Various people before the election and after the election have said things, but we are ready to face them. What is there…. They may send me to jail, what else can they do? Ultimately lawyers are there and the media is there to bring us out,” he had said last week when asked if he feared being targeted again by Central agencies.
Generally known to be fiercely loyal to people he considers friends, Shivakumar has ambitions of being Karnataka CM one day. Identified in his early political days as a troubleshooter and blue-eyed boy of former CM S M Krishna, Shivakumar was one of the youngest ministers in 1999. He has had a chequered political career since.
In his poll affidavit this time, he reported a massive Rs 589 crore increase in wealth since 2013. But in recent years, Shivakumar has been trying to shake off his early image of being a politician who relies on muscle and money power rather than ideals and principles.
As the political drama unfolded over the last few days, Shivakumar insisted he never made any offers of money to keep Congress MLAs from straying or to lure Independents. “I do not know about crores. I only know the numbers of MLAs. Those who are crorepatis will talk about crores. The BJP is talking of crores,” he said.