Karnataka CM race: Siddaramaiah close to finish line, Shivakumar makes last push.

Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah appeared to surge ahead of his rival, state Congress unit chief DK Shivakumar, in the race for the southern state’s top job on Monday, as the scene of the action shifted from Bengaluru to Delhi where a string of closed-door meetings spilled late into the night.

Speculation swirled as the 76-year-old Siddaramaiah landed in the Capital in the afternoon. In Bengaluru, meanwhile, Shivakumar initially said he was not coming to Delhi because of ill-health but told reporters late in the evening that he will try to go to Delhi on Tuesday, indicating that the final decision may be announced the same day.

The Karnataka impasse, after a massive victory, has emerged as a test of whether the Congress has learnt from its past mistakes.On the one hand, the party will need to resolve the leadership crisis quickly if it doesn’t want to lose the momentum from its biggest poll victory in nearly five years. On the other, the leadership will need to be careful to placate both sides and not let discontent simmer in a bid to avoid the situation in Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress government collapsed mid-term, Rajasthan, where an open rebellion by senior leader Sachin Pilot continues to roil the party, or in Chhattisgarh, where rivalling ambitions have led to periodic outbursts.

Monday’s developments came a day after the Congress legislative party met in Bengaluru and passed a one-line resolution empowering Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge to pick the head of the legislative party — effectively the next chief minister.

On Tuesday, Congress general secretaries KC Venugopal and Randeep Singh Surjewala will meet the two Karnataka stalwarts. “The observers have submitted the report. Congress president will go through the report and then have extensive deliberations with state and central leaders. No decision taken yet,” said Surjewala. He and Venugopal also met Kharge on Monday.

The report by the observers shows that Siddaramaiah — a former CM with nearly four decades of experience in Karnataka politics and the party’s popular face — has the backing of the majority of state lawmakers, said the people cited above.

Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar — two main architects of the Congress’s victory in the Karnataka assembly elections, when it trounced the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on its way to the biggest win in the state since 1989 — have rivalling ambitions but took care to project a united front on the campaign trail. Even on Sunday after the legislative party meeting, general secretary Surjewala tweeted a photo with Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, showing that the leaders were united.

Some of that veneer slipped on Monday. Before leaving for Delhi, Siddaramaiah said that he was confident that the members of legislative assembly (MLAs) were in favour of him becoming the chief minister.

“Most MLAs voted in my favour, as my per assessment. They want me to be the chief minister. The resolution (to leave the decision on the CM post to Kharge) is a procedure, but we have taken the opinion of MLAs. I’m confident of getting more votes,” he told India Today.

Hours later, Shivakumar shot back. “I don’t need the support of any MLAs. My strength is that under my presidency, 135 MLAs were elected to the assembly… there is so much I did as the party president,” he said. His candidature was also backed by top seers from the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities, two of the state’s most influential caste groups. Shivakumar hails from the Vokkaliga community. “I have proved it. I don’t want to disclose what all has happened in the last five years and at a future point of time I will disclose,” he added.

But later in the evening, his tone appeared to shift.

“I won’t blackmail, that’s not me. Don’t perceive anything. I have my own presence of mind. I am not a child. I won’t fall in a trap,” he told NDTV in an interview.

His brother, DK Suresh, landed in Delhi later in the evening, and met party chief Kharge at the latter’s residence.

With several possibilities still on the table — Siddaramaiah as CM, Shivakumar as CM, a compromise formula where the latter acts as the former’s deputy in addition to handling some key portfolios, or a rotational chief ministership — Kharge will take a call on Tuesday.

A senior Congress leader maintained that Kharge will decide after consulting Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. A second senior leader said Kharge held internal discussions on possible options to offer to the two leaders. Shivakumar, apart from becoming the deputy CM, might be also allowed to continue to be state unit chief, this leader added.

The two leaders cited above also indicated that Kharge will not take any unilateral decision without consulting Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar. “They are the two architects of the party’s victory. No decision will be taken without talking to them,” said the first leader.

The Congress on Saturday secured 135 of Karnataka’s 224 seats, defeating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 66. The Congress’s vote share in each of the state’s six regions was in excess of 40% and its campaign that focused on welfare outreach and anti-corruption struck a chord with the public.

Source- Hindustan Times.

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