From ‘counting sheep’ to presenting record number of budgets, CM-designate Siddaramaiah takes all in his stride

Siddaramaiah, 75, has presented 13 budgets, where six of them were presented when he was the Chief Minister of Karnataka.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published May 18, 2023 | 5:08 PM Updated May 18, 2023 | 9:57 PM

Siddaramaiah Congress Chief Minister

The electrifying beats of the karadi vadya and chamala accompanying the song narrating the Daksha Yajna added to the festive atmosphere. A group of men performed the fluidic Veera Makkala Kunitha, a folk dance form of Mysuru region in Karnataka.

One among them had his dhoti carelessly tied at half-mast. As he joined the performers, excited whistles pierced the cheerful summer night. The man kept on dancing as if it was in his DNA.

It came naturally to him. Siddaramaiah, who joined the performers in March 2022, learned to dance before starting school. The video surfaced again as the party he leads, the Indian National Congress, is set to take over the reins of Karnataka once again.

The video of his performance at Mysuru’s Siddarameshwara temple is the not only one that has surfaced. Another performance by the Congress leader during his Bellary Chalo Yatra in July 2010, too, has been shared on social media after the Congress routed the BJP in the 10 May Assembly polls.

The Yatra — against illegal mining and corruption — holds much significance in Karnataka politics. It helped Siddaramaiah dance his way to the chief minister’s office in 2013.

Watch: Even 100 rallies by Modi will have no impact: Siddaramaiah

Set for a second term

The dance videos surfaced as 75-year-old Siddaramaiah is set to be sworn in as the 26th chief minister of Karnataka on Saturday, 20 May — the second Congress leader to complete a first full term before having a second term, after the late D Devaraj Urs.

The first chief minister of Karnataka, the late S Nijalingappa of the Congress, too, had two terms. However, he was in office for only 1.5 years in his first term (1956-1958). He couldn’t complete a full term even during his second time as the chief minister (1962-1968).

Congress’s Veerendra Patil, Janata Party’s Ramkrishna Hegde, JD(S)’s HD Kumaraswamy, BJP’s BS Yediyurappa are the other leaders who became chief ministers more than once, but they could not complete their terms in office.

Related: Siddaramaiah to be sworn in as Karnataka CM

From ‘counting sheep’ to presenting budgets

A young Siddaramaiah started school late. He was admitted straight to Class IV after spending several years learning Veera Makkala Kunitha, a temple dance form. He later said the financial condition at home delayed his schooling since he had to tend to cattle.

Siddaramaiah later successfully pursued B.Sc and LL.B.

Leaders of Congress led by AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge after party's landslide in Karnataka. (Supplied)

Leaders of Congress led by AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge after the party’s landslide in Karnataka. (Supplied)

Born into the backward Kuruba (shepherd) community, Siddaramaiah is often dubbed tagaru (ram) and huliya (tiger), as he rose in stature to become an icon of sorts among Karnataka’s backward communities.

Opponents taunted him referring to his community. An unperturbed Siddaramaiah often recalled the jibes, of him counting sheep, shot at him. The man who “counted sheep” later went on to present 13 state budgets — six of them as the chief minister.

Siddaramaiah holds the credit for launching the Bhagya schemes, which were then ridiculed by the Opposition BJP. Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya, Krishi Bhagya, Shaadi Bhagya, Indira Canteen, etc, continue to be highly popular among the masses and the BJP was compelled to continue them, albeit reluctantly.

Despite these massively populist schemes, Siddaramaiah couldn’t lead the Congress back to victory in the 2018 election.

“Siddaramaiah was initially mocked, with baiters asking, forget presenting a budget, does he at least know to count sheep? He felt insulted and took it up as a challenge to master his hold on finance. His sense of economics and statistics is remarkable,” Dinesh Ameen Mattu, former media advisor to Siddaramaiah when he was chief minister, had told South First.

Despite being a first-generation politician from a farming family, Siddaramaiah is only the second chief minister after Urs to have completed five years in office — a rarity in Karnataka politics.

Like Urs, Siddaramaiah put together a social coalition, AHINDA — a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes, and Dalits — to strengthen the Congress’s core vote base, banking heavily on his backward class community.

Related: BJP’s Sudhakar claims Siddaramaiah ‘inspired’ MLAs to defect in 2019

Unmatched popularity

On 3 August, 2022, over four lakh supporters and followers of Siddaramaiah gathered at Davanagere to celebrate his 75th birthday — Siddaramotsava. Social media was abuzz with people terming him the next chief minister of Karnataka. After nine months, he is set to be sworn in as the chief minister.

Siddaramaiah greeting party workers. (siddaramaiah/Twitter)

Siddaramaiah greeting party workers. (siddaramaiah/Twitter)

Amurtha Utsava (the 75th birthday celebration of Siddaramaiah) also reflected Siddaramaiah’s unmatched popularity in Karnataka politics.

Siddaramaiah’s elevation was not without hiccups. The Congress high command held marathon talks before appointing him as the chief minister and KPCC president DK Shivakumar as the deputy chief minister.

Urs was the chief minister from 1972 to 1977 and was re-elected in 1978. However, he was in the office only for a brief period of one year and 318 days before he stepped down in January 1980.

Karnataka’s Congress unit faced the 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls under the leadership of Siddaramaiah and KPCC chief DK Shivakumar.

The party put up an impressive performance winning 135 seats, while the BJP and JD(S) were reduced to 66 and 19 seats, respectively.

Interview: No mistake banning outfits involved in hate politics: Siddaramaiah

Grudge against Gowda, Kumaraswamy

Once considered the political protégé of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, Siddaramaiah joined the Congress in 2006 after a fallout with the JD(S) patriarch.

Those close to Siddaramaiah insist that he holds a grudge against Deve Gowda and his son and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy for denying him the chief minister’s post when he had enough support in the party In 2018.

Siddaramaiah had then stayed out of the Cabinet when the JD(S) and Congress formed a coalition government under Kumaraswamy.

Despite the “outsider” jibes from his contemporaries in the party, Siddaramaiah went on to become one of Congress’s most popular and successful chief ministers, though he is still criticised for promoting caste-based politics.

Assertive leadership

His brainchild, “Bellary Chalo” padayatra in 2010 — which was his challenge to the then all-powerful mining baron G Janardhana Reddy — laid the foundation for the party’s return to power on its own in the state.

A dancing Siddaramaiah became the Congress’s poster boy during the yatra.

Despite his Janata Party roots, and not being an “original Congressman”, Siddaramaiah was elected the leader of the legislature party in a secret ballot after the party’s thumping victory in the 2013 Assembly polls.

When his elder son and assumed political heir, Rakesh Siddaramaiah, died in Belgium in 2016, Siddaramaiah — who was then the chief minister — returned to work in three days, albeit persuaded by his wife Parvathi, who is rarely seen in public.

His second son, Dr Yathindra Siddaramaiah, who represented Varuna in the 15th Karnataka Legislative Assembly, often confessed that his political debut was a result of his elder brother’s death.

In the 2023 Assembly elections, Yathindra gave up his seat for his father Siddaramaiah, who had represented the same seat twice in 2008 and 2013. The former chief minister won comfortably against the BJP’s senior Lingayat leader V Somanna.

Straight from the heart

During the hijab row, when almost all Congress leaders in Karnataka chose to keep mum, Siddaramaiah questioned the government for prioritising costumes over the education of young girls.

During the 2018 Assembly elections, Siddaramaiah emerged as the only leader to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his election campaigns amidst a “Modi wave”.

“He just speaks the truth. It is impossible to get him to lie or not speak his mind, no matter how silly or serious the issue is,” Mattu said.

Despite his unsparing attacks on the BJP and RSS, Siddaramaiah continues to remain good friends with leaders from the saffron party.

“When it comes to elections, we fight tooth and nail, but otherwise we share a personal bond. All I wish is that he takes all castes together instead of just one,” senior BJP leader KS Eshwarappa, a staunch critic of Siddaramaiah’s ‘caste-focused politics’,” had told South First.

That has not, however, stopped him from fighting hard to replace Siddaramaiah as leader of the Kurubas.

The resistance Siddaramaiah is facing in Congress today is akin to 2006 when he joined the party on Sonia Gandhi’s insistence.

The firebrand leader was already a tough competition to seasoned Congress politicians. Sixteen years down the line, Siddaramaiah is once again set to be sworn in as the chief minister of Karnataka.