The intense tussle between Siddaramaiah and KPCC chief DK Shivakumar for the coveted post of Karnataka chief minister continued on Wednesday, 17 May.
With the two presenting their arguments and demands, accommodating both the strong leaders — who are jointly credited with the landslide victory of the party in Karnataka Assembly polls — has proven to be a challenge for the Congress central leadership, including AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge.
Deliberations over who should be Karnataka’s chief minister have gone on for three days now, with Congress being criticised for not being able to decide upon a face yet.
The party won in a landslide on Saturday, taking 135 of the 224 Assembly seats and reducing the ruling BJP to 66, less than half that number.
The party top brass, however, promised a final call on the appointment of the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) either on Wednesday itself, or Thursday, and insisted that the new Cabinet will be formed in the next 48 to 72 hours.
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‘Yet to make a final decision’
Amidst reports that Siddaramaiah will be picked as the next chief minister and Shivakumar as deputy chief minister, AICC General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, who is also the in-charge of Karnataka’s Congress unit, told reporters in Delhi: “The high command is yet to make final decision on the appointment of the leader of the CLP.”
Earlier, the national capital witnessed hectic political activity with Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar holding talks with former AICC president Rahul Gandhi at his mother and former AICC chief Sonia Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi in the morning on Wednesday.
The chief ministerial aspirants also held talks with Surjewala at the latter’s residence in Delhi. The top brass couldn’t come to a conclusion even after chairing a marathon meeting with the stakeholders.
In the evening, Shivakumar once again turned up at Surjewala’s residence, and the latter then reportedly called leaders supporting Siddaramaiah — including KPCC Campaign Committee Chairman and Babaleshwar MLA MB Patil and Koppal MLA Raghavendra Hitnal — to his residence.
The leader of the CLP is likely to be announced on Thursday and Cabinet in the next 48-72 hours, said Surjewala.
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‘Party has authorised Kharge to name CM’
Surjewala told the reporters in Delhi on Wednesday: “The party chief has been authorised to appoint the leader of the CLP and that is why deliberations are underway.”
“Do not resort to any speculation; whenever a decision is taken by the Congress president, we will be happy to inform you. I am only here to put an end to multiple rumours and hearsay that are being played on multiple news channels. Please don’t believe them,” Surjewala said, stressing that the party is yet to take a final decision.
“Whenever Congress takes a decision, either on Wednesday or Thursday, the party will be the first one to inform the media,” Surjewala added.
In a long tweet, Surjewala said: “A section of our dear friends in the media have fallen victim to the ‘fake news factory’ of BJP on formation of the next Congress government in Karnataka.”
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Congress restricts MLAs from talking to media
After a few leaders of former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s faction issued statements that the party had named him as the next chief minister, and that the announcement was expected anytime, the Congress high command asked them to refrain from talking to the media on the matter.
“I have also advised all Congress leaders to not issue statements on the issue of leadership. Any out of turn remarks made from here onwards will be treated as indiscipline and action taken accordingly,” Surjewala cautioned the party leaders.
He further said: “The Congress Party is committed to the welfare of every Kannadiga and will implement all the five guarantees in the first meeting of the Cabinet.”
“A clean, honest and transparent government for Karnataka is our duty and we will give the state a new government within 48 to 72 hours. We will rebuild Brand Karnataka and transform the dreams of 6.5 crore Kannadigas into reality,” tweeted Surjewala.
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Bommai takes a dig at Congress
Reacting to the Delhi negotiations, acting Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai told reporters on Wednesday: “The inability of the Congress to decide on the new chief mnister early, despite having a complete majority, reflects on the internal situation of the party.”
Bommai said: “People have voted for the Congress party hoping that a change of government will bring a lot of prosperity to the state as well as the people.”
“They are yet to finalise their CM candidate. It is their internal matter; I don’t want to discuss much on that. The inability to choose a CM early is a reflection on the party’s unity.”
“Aspirations of the people are more important than politicking. They (Congress) should settle the issue of a new chief minister and government formation as soon as possible,” added Bommai.
Surjewala, however, was quick to hit back at the BJP for criticising the grand-old-party: “We understand the frustration of the BJP in being decisively rejected by the brothers and sisters of Karnataka, bringing an end to the 40-percent BJP government.”
Also Read: Will Karnataka verdict impact Telangana elections?
Dramatic Developments in Bengaluru
Amid intense speculation over the next chief minister, Karnataka witnessed dramatic scenes in the afternoon, mainly after talk of the high command having decided on Siddaramaiah as the leader of the CLP.
Siddaramaiah’s supporters, who had gathered near the official residence of the outgoing Leader of Opposition in the Assembly in Bengaluru, were jubilant and indulged in celebrations and even distributed sweets.
Holding pictures of their leader, they shouted slogans praising Siddaramaiah, and poured milk over a life-size cut-out of the former chief minister that has been put up in front of his residence.
Similar scenes were witnessed in his home district of Mysuru, and native village of Siddaramanahundi.
His followers and well-wishers set off crackers, danced, distributed sweets and celebrated by pouring milk on his cutouts erected along the roads.
Meanwhile, government officials seemingly kick-started preparations for the swearing-in ceremony at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in the heart of Bengaluru of the new (yet-to-be-finalised) chief minister-designate by landing up to inspect the venue.
However, the preparations were stopped mid-way after the Congress high command cleared the air by stating that the party was yet to finalise the next chief minister of Karnataka.
This is the same venue where Siddaramaiah took oath as the chief minister for the first time in 2013.