On Saturday the Congress celebrated an emphatic win in the 2023 Karnataka Assembly election; the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was swatted away by a margin of 69 seats for a first state poll win since Himachal Pradesh last year. On Sunday the Congress woke up to a poster war after supporters of state boss DK Shivakumar and the outgoing Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah plastered the capital with posters demanding their ‘man’ be appointed chief minister.
That the Congress would have to choose between their two tallest leaders in the state was a given and only the (fortunate) realisation that everyone in the party had to work together to beat the BJP’s much-vaunted election machinery kept a lid on a rivalry now apparently bubbling over furiously.
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And now, having secured what has been touted as a record win (in terms of vote share) it appears the gloves have come off; news agency ANI this morning shared videos of posters outside the Bengaluru residences of both DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah to kick-start the ‘CM race’.
Widely seen as the Congress’ point man in the southern state, DK Shivakumar made his (first) play for the chief minister’s post yesterday evening, shortly after outgoing chief minister Basavaraj Bommai conceded defeat.
DKS’ message – ‘I delivered Karnataka to the fold…’ – was accompanied by an emotional moment as he thanked the Gandhi family (and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge) and said tearfully he had been inspired by Sonia Gandhi visiting him while in jail in Delhi in 2020.
Shivakumar yesterday played down any talk of confrontation in deciding the chief minister, insisting the decision would be taken in the ‘temple’ that is the party’s Delhi office and that his only concern is to ensure good governance for the people of Karnataka and development of the state.
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He won from his Kanakapura stronghold by over 1.2 lakh votes.
In the other corner is Siddaramaiah – another battle-hardened veteran politician and one who has served as both chief minister and deputy chief minister. Seen as the more popular face of the party, Siddaramaiah may be banking on a different sort of emotion to return to the state’s top post.
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The former CM has said this – a ninth electoral win – his swansong; confirming his candidature from the Varuna constituency, he said: “This is going to be my last… will retire from electoral politics.”
Speaking after the results yesterday, he hailed the victory as a ‘mandate against (prime minister) Narendra Modi, (union home minister) Amit Shah and (BJP chief) JP Nadda’ and, significantly perhaps, also singled out Rahul Gandhi, declaring he hoped the ex-MP would become PM in 2024.
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Siddaramaiah too claimed a big win; he won by more than 45,000 votes.
When will the race be decided?
The Congress has called for a meeting of its legislators this evening – at 5.30 pm. Will the chief minister be announced then? Possibly.
Messages have certainly flown thick and fast between the party’s HQ in Delhi and Bengaluru, and deals and compromises will have been made and offered.
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All then await the Congress’ answer to the question – ‘who is the next chief minister of Karnataka’.