Karnataka: Cong vs Cong as party looks for Oppn leader

Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah

One-upmanship in the faction-ridden Congress intensified on Sunday, with one group backing former chief minister Siddaramaiah to lead the party in the Karnataka Assembly and another, comprising old-timers, seeking his ouster. 

AICC general secretary Madhusudan Mistry, deployed by the party high command to solicit opinions from state leaders, spent the entire day holding one-on-one meetings on who should lead the party in the Karnataka legislature.  

Specifically, Mistry was sent to gauge opinions for seven positions - Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, Leader of the Opposition (LOP) in the Legislative Assembly and Council, Deputy Leaders and chief whips in both houses. Appointments to these positions are expected before the winter session of the legislature starts on October 10. 

According to sources, Mistry was slated to individually meet 63 senior leaders. But in what is seen as a show of Siddaramaiah’s strength, over a dozen legislators loyal to him “gatecrashed” the meeting sensing that the tide may turn against their leader. The leaders pushed before Mistry their demand to make Siddaramaiah the LOP.

Siddaramaiah, the current CLP leader and front runner to become LOP, has earned bad blood within the party for alleged “unilateral decisions”. 

The leadership of Siddaramaiah has come under scrutiny ever since the party lost the 2018 Assembly polls.

His credibility was questioned further after the party’s drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the collapse of the Congress-JD(S) coalition. Former minister HK Patil has emerged as the LOP candidate. The senior legislator has publicly acknowledged his intent to lead the party.  

“We recommended some names keeping the party’s interests in mind, and factoring in the need to rebuild the party going forward,” senior leader KH Muniyappa told reporters after meeting Mistry. 

Muniyappa and Rajya Sabha member B K Hariprasad have been leading the charge against Siddaramaiah, which is seen as a tussle between the “natives” and “outsiders” within the Congress.

Siddaramaiah was with the JD(S) till 2005. “We accepted an outsider like Siddaramaiah to become the CM. What else do you want us to say?” Muniyappa snapped at reporters who pressed further. 

There is also speculation that the high command may look to please the factions by retaining Siddaramaiah as the CLP leader, making his bete noire G Parameshwara the KPCC president and Patil the LOP - an OBC, Dalit and Reddy-Lingayat combo, respectively. 

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