Bengaluru: On a day when the Congress faced a serious blow in Madhya Pradesh, the party also tried to resurrect its chances in Karnataka by appointing Vokkaliga strongman and 'Man Friday' DK Shivakumar as the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).
The post has been lying vacant for quite some time, following the resignation of Dinesh Gundu Rao in December after the the debacle in the by-elections.
What is significant is that it is after a gap of over 20 years that a Vokkaliga leader has been made the party president in the state. The last was SM Krishna, the mentor of DKS, in 1999. Krishna is now with the BJP. Vokkaligas constitute the second-largest vote base in Karnataka, after Lingayats.
The appointment of Shivakumar will surely not go well with the JD(S), a Vokkaliga party. The equations with the JD(S) could get strained as both Congress and JDS will now vie for the Old Mysuru region.
As a balancing act, the party high command has asked former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to continue as the Leader of Opposition (LoP) and Congress Legislative Party (CLP). He had resigned from both the posts along with Gundu Rao.Often called by various names such as DKS, 'Captain' and ‘rock from Kanakapura’ (the constituency from where he hails), the new KPCC chief has been given three deputies who are often not on the same page as Shivakumar -- Satish Jarkiholi, Eashwar Khandre and Saleem Ahmed. They have been made working presidents of KPCC.
The appointment of three working presidents would obviously make life difficult for DKS who is known for his strong-arm tactics. But the Congress high command has attempted to work out a precarious caste balance.Eashwar Khandre is a Lingayat leader but no match for Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa. Here, his appointment is an attempt to keep the Congress party’s Lingayats happy. Lingayats form the biggest vote bank in Karnataka and have traditionally been loyal supporters of the BJP. With Yediyurappa growing old, the Congress wants to project Khandare as an alternative in the party. Satish Jarkiholi is a Siddaramaiah loyalist and his appointment is an attempt to appease the Mumbai Karnataka region -- a BJP stronghold.
Saleem Ahmed represents the minorities who have often electorally stuck with the Congress.DKS is seen as a strong Congress loyalist and a ‘gate-keeper’ of Congress MLAs of other states who need protection from BJP’s poaching moves – the last being the Congress lawmakers from Madhya Pradesh.