Two days before the Karnataka election results, Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah Sunday said that he was ready to step aside and make way for a Dalit chief minister in the state if the Congress high command wanted.
“I have no issues. If the high command says they want to appoint a Dalit as CM, I will say go ahead. I am not opposed to anybody,’’ he said at a press conference at his home in Mysuru. He was asked if the Congress favoured the appointment of a Dalit chief minister in Karnataka in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
“The MLAs also have to give their opinion is it not? You cannot force it also. The MLAs have to give their opinion and the high command has to also clear it. You cannot run the government by force… In my five years of rule, there has been no instance of dissident activities. All the MLAs have cooperated.”
After voting in Karnataka on Saturday, six out of eight major exit polls predicted that the BJP would get the largest number of seats in the new assembly, while two indicated a Congress majority. Seven polls predicted a hung assembly, with neither the BJP nor the Congress getting to the simple majority mark of 112 seats, which suggested that the JD(S) – predicted to get between 20 and 40 seats – would be kingmaker.
Incidentally, the Congress did not officially name Siddaramaiah as the party’s chief ministerial candidate ahead of the assembly elections, though it campaigned under his leadership. But, through the campaign, Siddaramaiah reiterated that he is the party’s chief ministerial candidate. “The elections are being fought under my leadership. That means I am the chief minister candidate of the party,’’ he had recently said.
On Sunday, Siddaramaiah also said that he has had “enough of poll politics’’ and that he would not contest polls again. “I will remain in politics but will not take part in elections,’’ he said. “We will get a clear majority and form the government.’’
Responding to his remarks, the Congress leadership in Delhi said they were confident of getting a full majority. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said, “Siddaramaiah has shown his big heart and shown the pro-Dalit policies of the Congress through his statement. Siddaramaiah, all the Congress leaders, workers and the voters… they are all confident that there will not be a hung assembly. And we will get full majority.”
Asked if Siddaramaiah will be the CM if the Congress gets the majority, he said, “The Congress party has a process. And it is a transparent process. A meeting of the Congress Legislature Party is called and CLP elects its leader. The process is always the same… There is a system, It is an old system,” he said.
Khera also said that no talks with the JD(S) were necessary and that he had no faith in exit polls.
In Karnataka, Congress leaders were divided on the issue. While senior Congress leader M B Patil said Siddaramaiah would continue as the CM if elected to power again, state Congress president G Parameshwara, a Dalit, Sunday said the high command would take the final decision.
JDS national president and former prime minister H D Devegowda has also raised the question on a few occasions. There has been speculation for over three years now that the Congress party favoured a Dalit as the chief minister of the state for the first time to consolidate the nearly 23 per cent Dalit vote base.
In the course of the election campaign in Karnataka over the past few months Congress president Rahul Gandhi has often spoken of Dalit leader Mallikarjun Kharge – the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha – in the same breath as chief minister Siddaramaiah while alluding to the leadership of the party in Karnataka. The party president has also remained evasive on the leadership question while stating that the elections were being fought under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s leadership.
Kharge was widely tipped for the top job in 2013 but Siddaramaiah emerged the winner following a CLP meeting. Asked recently about the possibility of him being the next CM if the Congress won, Kharge had said that the issue at hand was the Congress winning the elections.
Siddaramaiah has often been asked the question about a Dalit CM in for the first time. In 2015, in an interview with The Indian Express, he had said, that “this matter has not been discussed in the party forum’’.
“Some people who are not connected with the Congress party, some organisations that have nothing to do with the Congress party they have made it an issue. We are not bothered about such things. My government is committed to the upliftment of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes,’’ he had said.