Siddaramaiah’s 75th birthday finds many party poopers in Karnataka Congress: Here’s why

Critics of Siddaramaiah within the Congress are wary about the show of strength on the former chief minister's birthday on 3 August.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Jul 17, 2022 | 2:19 PMUpdatedJul 27, 2022 | 12:17 PM

Congress leader Siddaramaiah

In a rare instance, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President DK Shivakumar recently lauded the erstwhile government of his senior colleague Siddaramaiah, whose 75th birthday celebration on 3 August promises to be a grand affair.

“The BJP is jealous that it is not able to match up to the achievements of the Siddaramaiah government. Our government fulfilled 95 percent of our promises in five years under Siddaramaiah,” Shivakumar told reporters last week.

DK Shivakumar

Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar (Facebook/DK Shivakumar)

He was responding to the barbs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about dissidence in the Congress over Siddaramaiah’s birthday celebration, for which nearly 100 leaders of the party are working as members of various committees.

Shivakumar’s retort to the BJP and his remark that it is the saffron party that faces internal problems would paint a picture that “all is well” in the Karnataka Congress.

The reality, however, is far from it.

Siddaramaiah show of strength

Siddaramaiah’s 75th birthday celebration — or “amrutha mahotsava”, as the media in Karnataka has christened it, much to the dislike of his baiters — is the latest bone of contention in the Congress.

“Siddaramhotsava” is either an “irritant” or a “golden opportunity”, depending on who you ask in the Congress.

“Nobody is opposing a celebration, but it is increasingly becoming an individualistic event. It is being perceived as an attempt to put an individual — Siddaramaiah — above the party and its welfare,” a senior leader of the Congress in Karnataka and a former minister in the Siddaramaiah Cabinet told South First.

Birthdays are naturally centred around one individual, but when you are a politician, a former chief minister, and a strong contender for the top post again, things get complicated. More so if you are considered a popular leader of the backward classes.

KPCC President DK Shivakumar at Siddaramaiah's residence in Bengaluru. File photo (Supplied)

KPCC President DK Shivakumar at Siddaramaiah’s residence in Bengaluru (Supplied)

“Any event hosted for Siddaramaiah will naturally see a show of strength by the backward class communities, just as Shivakumar’s events will see a display of Vokkaliga strength. When Siddaramaiah is being celebrated as an individual instead of as a Congress party leader, would it not alienate other communities like Lingayats, Dalits, STs (Scheduled Tribes), or Vokkaligas?” the leader quoted above asked.

What is left unsaid by the section of the Congress that is uncomfortable with the 3 August birthday event is its potential to portray Siddaramaiah’s hold over the Congress vote bank vis-à-vis other chief ministerial aspirants in the party, including Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, MB Patil, a Lingayat, and G Parameshwara, a Dalit.

Siddaramaiah baiters in the Congress worry that such a show of strength on the former’s chief minister’s birthday may influence public perception, especially when elections are less than a year away.

“Siddaramaiah ideology is Congress ideology”

Siddaramaiah’s 75th birthday celebration is being held in Davangere district in Central Karnataka. Those involved in organising it expect to gather around five lakh people for the event on 3 August.

Given Siddaramaiah’s stature as a socialist and backward class leader, and his push for AHINDA (a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes, and Dalits) as a socio-political engineering combine, the event is expected to attract thousands of people.

Dr Yathindra Siddaramiah

Dr Yathindra Siddaramaiah, Karnataka MLA and son of the former chief minister (Facebook/ Yathindra Siddaramaiah)

“A majority of leaders in the party support this celebration. Siddaramaiah’s supporters have been planning the birthday event for two years now to celebrate his life and 40 years in politics. Party leaders too agree that it is a great opportunity to consolidate voters for the elections,” Dr Yathindra Siddaramaiah, Congress MLA from Varuna and Siddaramaiah’s son, told South First.

He added that the celebration would have been held whether or not elections were around the corner. “Father’s ideology and the Congress ideology are the same. He has always stood for social justice, fought for the downtrodden, and stood for communal harmony — all part of the Congress principles. When we are celebrating his 75th birthday, it is like celebrating Congress ideology itself,” he said.

Those in the Congress who have always looked at Siddaramaiah as an outsider — owing to his political roots in the JD(S) — are not happy with calling the birthday event for the former chief minister a celebration of the Congress ideology.

Congress test of public unity

Despite the internal differences over the birthday celebration of Siddaramaiah, the Congress in Karnataka is attempting to put up a show of unity.

A host of leaders who otherwise identify with the ‘non-Siddaramaiah’ camp — including Shivakumar’s brother and Lok Sabha MP DK Suresh — have been made members of the coordination, welcome and working committees organising the event.

Despite their personal differences with the Siddaramaiah birthday celebration, Congress leaders have been defending the event while pushing for it to be brought under the party banner.

“Birthdays have always been important events that supporters have used to project their leader. The Congress is not projecting a ‘single’ leader. Supporters of leaders would use every opportunity to project their own and what better opportunity than a birthday,” Prof Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and national coordinator, Lokniti Network, told South First, adding that he didn’t see it as a flashpoint between leaders.

Siddaramaiah vs DK Shivakumar

The first time Siddaramaiah brought up the talk of his 75th birthday celebration with the Congress central leadership was during his meeting with Rahul Gandhi. Accompanied by Shivakumar and AICC in-charge general secretary Randeep Surjewala, Siddaramaiah extended an invitation to Rahul to the event on 29 June.

Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar in a meeting with Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on 29 June, 2022. File photo (supplied)

Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar in a meeting with Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on 29 June (Supplied)

The Congress in Karnataka today is largely divided in its support between Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah. In the New Delhi meeting, according to party sources, Rahul stressed the need to stay united heading into the polls.

While Shivakumar with his Mekedatu padayatra earlier last year tried to consolidate Vokkaliga support in the old Mysuru region and parade his popularity as a strong chief ministerial candidate, the outcome wasn’t as expected.

This time around, Siddaramaiah is looking to use his birthday to reignite the AHINDA formula and parade his strength in the run-up to the polls.

All this is happening even as a Congress internal survey shows that the party has its best chance of swinging the upcoming elections in its favour if the two leaders and their supporters put their differences aside and work as one unit.