Bengaluru: Bengaluru, May 14 (PTI) Newly elected Congress MLAs in Karnataka on Sunday authorised party president Mallikarjun Kharge to pick the next chief minister, with the leadership battle heating up between Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar – the frontrunners for the coveted post.
AICC General Secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal said the three central observers appointed by Kharge will take the opinion of the legislators which will be conveyed to the party president.
“This process of taking the opinion of all MLAs would be completed today itself,” he said.
Sources said the observers will be handing over their report to Kharge by Monday.
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The Congress Legislature Party, which met at a private hotel here on Sunday evening, passed a unanimous resolution authorising the party chief to pick its leader.
Randeep Surjewala, AICC in-charge for Karnataka, said the first resolution was moved by state Congress chief Shivakumar thanking all the leaders and the workers and people of Karnataka, while the second single-line resolution was moved by former chief minister Siddaramaiah.
“The MLAs would meet the central observers after dinner tonight and their decision will be conveyed to the party president for taking a decision to appoint a new CLP leader,” Surjewala said after the meeting.
Outside the meeting venue, supporters of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar chanted slogans and raised banners and flags in their support.
While the two leaders earlier held meetings with the MLAs loyal to them, a poster war also erupted with both sides projecting their leader as the next chief minister.
Kharge had deputed former Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, AICC general secretary Jitendra Singh and former AICC general secretary Deepak Babaria as observers for the election of the CLP leader.
The Congress central observers, along with Venugopal, were in a huddle with Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar before the legislature party meeting.
The Congress president, who returned to Delhi, had earlier said the AICC observers will convey the opinion of the party MLAs to the high command which will then take a final decision.
He also asserted the government will be formed as soon as possible.
Both Siddaramaiah (75), and Shivakumar (60) have made no secret of their ambition to become the chief minister.
Even though Congress managed to put up a united front before the elections, it faces an uphill task of sustaining that unity as the process of picking the chief minister gets underway.
The newly elected assembly in Karnataka has to be put in place before the term of the previous assembly expires on May 24.
While Shivakumar is considered to be a “troubleshooter” for the Congress party, Siddaramaiah, leader of opposition in the outgoing Assembly, has a pan-Karnataka appeal.
If Siddaramaiah, who joined Congress after being expelled from JD(S), gets elected as the CLP leader, this will be his second stint as the chief minister of the party after holding the post for five years between 2013-18. Shivakumar had served as Minister in Siddaramaiah’s cabinet.
Ahead of the meeting of the newly-elected MLAs, Shivakumar stressed that he had toiled hard for the party while taking everyone along and never sought anything for himself.
He recalled that the then Congress national president Sonia Gandhi had reposed faith in him and made him president after Siddaramaiah and Dinesh Gundu Rao resigned as the Congress Legislature Party president and head of the state unit respectively after the party’s rout in 2019 by-elections.
Shivakumar said that when he was in jail in a money laundering case, Gandhi had visited him to show her support.
“I had not done anything wrong for myself. Whatever I did was for the party. All my sufferings were for the party,” he said, adding he did not harbour any differences with Siddaramaiah.
The Congress state chief, who won the Assembly election on Saturday from Kanakapura, said, “Everyone was saying that there are differences between me and Siddaramaiah but let me tell you not a single iota of difference is there. I did not give anyone a chance.”
“I just kept myself grounded and walked my path,” Shivakumar told reporters at Nonavinakere here.
Backing Sivakumar for the CM’s post, prominent Vokkaliga pontiff of Adi Chunchanagiri Nirmalananda Natha Swamiji appealed to the party, saying he is the most eligible candidate to head the state.
The Vokkaliga Sangha, which is the main body of one of the dominant communities of Karnataka, organised the meeting of pontiffs where a unanimous decision was taken to request the Congress leadership to consider making Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga who rose to the top post of the Congress, to make him CM.
“This programme has been organised to request all the seniors right from Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and Siddaramaiah to give Shivakumar an opportunity to run the administration and serve the society,” Nirmalananda Natha Swamiji said.
He said that Shivakumar had suffered a lot while discharging his duty.
“We all saw tears in his eyes yesterday, which were a mix of joy and pain. The man who toiled so much should get the result,” the pontiff said.
Banners have come up in front of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar’s residences here, erected by supporters, congratulating them for Congress win and projecting them as the next chief minister.
Shivakumar has been openly expressing his chief ministerial aspirations at various events, especially the ones connected with Vokkaligas.
He had asked the dominant community, to which he belongs, not to lose out on an opportunity with him as the KPCC president while pointing out that S M Krishna was the last Vokkaliga to lead the party in the polls and then went on to become the CM in 1999.
In fact in this election, the Congress has significantly improved its electoral performance in the Vokkaliga-dominated Old Mysuru region (south Karnataka) and that credit largely goes to Shivakumar.
Siddaramaiah, who has seniority on his side, is known for his able administrative skills. He also enjoys the distinction of having presented 13 budgets for the state.
Being a mass leader, he has considerable clout among the AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits).
Siddaramaiah had announced that this was his last election.
There are also other contenders for the post like former deputy chief minister G Parameshwara and veteran leader and seven-time MP K H Muniyappa – both Dalits, and M B Patil – a Lingayat.
Meanwhile, Latha Mallikarjun, who was elected as an independent from Harapanahalli Assembly segment, has extended “unconditional support” to the Congress.
Latha Mallikarjun is the daughter of former deputy chief minister, late M P Prakash.
In the May 10 elections to the 224-member Assembly, the Congress scored an emphatic victory with 135 seats, while the ruling BJP and the former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) secured 66 and 19, respectively.
Outgoing chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said on Sunday that Karnataka BJP will a detailed analysis of the overall poll results and also constituency-wise outcomes to find out the reasons for the party’s debacle in the Assembly election.
Rejecting the Congress’s claim that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s defeat, he said multiple factors have contributed to the party’s performance and they will all be analysed.
A meeting of all newly-elected members and candidates will be held soon in this regard, he said.
He was speaking after participating in a meeting of BJP leaders under the leadership of state president Nalin Kumar Kateel at the party headquarters here on Sunday.
Responding to a question on the Congress terming the Karnataka poll outcome as Modi’s defeat, the CM said, “It cannot be Modi’s defeat. Modi is for the entire country, not just for Karnataka. He had come for campaigning here. Congress might have won in Karnataka but has seen defeat across the country.”
Answering a question on the possibility of BJP state chief Kateel resigning, Bommai said it was not discussed. He also said that no discussions have taken place as to who will be the leader of the opposition.
The Congress alleged that the BJP was not able to come to terms with the decisive verdict against it in Karnataka and was “manufacturing lies” and indulging in politics of polarisation.