With less than six months ahead of the Karnataka Assembly polls, is the most ‘popular’ Congress leader and chief ministerial aspirant, Siddaramaiah’s ongoing scramble for a ‘safe seat’, a sign of nervousness? Or is it a strategy to keep his political opponents, both within and outside the party, guessing till the eleventh hour?
Considering the high stakes in the election outcome for both Siddaramaiah and the Congress party, it is a bit of both.
After completing his hugely successful 75th birthday bash at Davanagere in August and Rahul Gandhi’s wholesome praise for his leadership qualities, Siddaramaiah is acutely aware that he has a fair chance of getting another tilt at chief ministership, should the Congress return to power with a majority.
Over the last five years, as leader of the Opposition and the legislature party, he led an aggressive and sustained campaign against the BJP government. He clearly believes that he has earned the right to be the ‘first choice’ to replace Basavaraj Bommai as chief minister of the state.
But, he also knows that his path is riddled with thorns as his principal rival, KPCC president DK Shivakumar, is equally ‘powerful’ and experienced and will fight every inch of the way to fulfil his long-cherished ambition. The recent election of another Karnataka strongman, Mallikarjun Kharge, as Congress’s national president, will surely bring more intrigue to the race for the chief minister’s post.
Siddaramaiah, for all his outward show of confidence and bluster, has reasons to be anxious about the election outcome for a variety of reasons, many of them outside his control. Unlike in 2018, when as a sitting chief minister he had the luxury of contesting for two seats, this time he will likely be restricted to just one, and the fact that he has “short-listed” about six seats for final selection, each with a set of tricky problems, demonstrates the dilemmas he is going through.
Last Sunday, Siddaramaiah’s supporters had organised a day-long show for him at Kolar, about 70 km from Bengaluru, which witnessed the trappings of an election campaign. Accompanied by local leaders and party workers who had turned up in thousands, Siddaramaiah travelled by open jeep and visited important temples, mosques and churches. He even declared that he would “love to contest from Kolar” but a final call would be from the Congress’s high command.
Similarly, Siddaramaiah has explored the possibilities of contesting from Chamarajpet, Chamarajanagar, Bagalkot, Varuna, Hunsur and Kadur, but he has kept the cards close to his chest and let the rumour-mongers have a field day.