‘DKShi’ Money, Muscle May Help Karnataka Congress ?


(B. Someshwara Rao)

Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are so closely linked with Karnataka that developments in that state will affect the other two. All three have one thing in common: the Indian National Congress is out of power on all three.

One of the richest MLAs in India, Doddalahally Kempegowda Shivakumar, (Rs.870 crores declared, possibly much more in reality) has formally taken over as chief of the Indian National Congress in BJP-ruled Karnataka, with a video-conferencing call to district and taluka units all over the state, thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. It is believed to be a mere formality as he was already functioning as party chief since his appointment last month.

The Congress is said to have lost its political relevance inKarnataka, the only  state in south India to be ruled by a national party while regional setups rule the other three. The question now being asked is: Will ‘DKShi’ as he is popularly called by Kannadigas, restore it? In Indian politics where the 3 Cs. Cash, coercion (muscle power) and caste are the only factors that matter DKShi has not only the first two in abundance but it also helps that the ruling CM, B.S. Yeddurappa, is a Lingayat, the traditional rival of his Vokkaliga caste which is said to have rallied around the BJP.

When the Kannada superstar Dr. Rajkumar died (in a hospital normally and not when he was abducted by Veerappan), Bangalore was in the grip of widespread violence for several days. The rumour was that DKShi was the brain behind the inexplicable violence and arson just  to show off his strength.

DKShi is the most powerful leader of the dominant Vokkaligas now in  Congress in Karnataka, especially after his mentor Krishna joined the BJP in 2017 (reportedly because of the growing clout of DKShi). Shivkumar is considered not only as a  troubleshooter but also an ace strategist. A shrewd politician, he is believed to be the only one who can take on the BJP,  he  is a seven-time MLA from Sathanur Assembly constituency. A student leader in his college days,  he contested as an independent candidate and  became MLA for first time in 1989 by defeating Janata Dal supremo (then in Janata Party) Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda in Sathanur constituency.  The same Deve Gowda defeated him in the 1985 assembly elections.

DKShi  had led the group that backed S. Bangarappa as successor when Veerandra Patil was forced to step down as CM due to ill health.  Bangarappa returned the favour by inducting DKShi as a Minister of State for Prisons in 1991 at the age of 30 years, perhaps the youngest.  From then on he has been playing politics of the 3Cs.   He was also the Minister for Urban Development in the SM Krishna cabinet, served as Minister for Power in the Siddaramaiah Government and Minister for Water Resources and Higher Education in H D Kumaraswamy’s coalition government. He is said to be the brain behind making Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda’s son, the CM though he headed the party with the least number of MLAs. Thus he won not only the leadership of Vokkaligas but also the sympathy of the former Prime Minister, He is also believed to have masterminded the Kumaraswami government’s bid to split his rival Ligayats into Veerashivas and Lingayats.

DKShi is considered the father of ‘Resort politics’ in this country, with MLAs frequently herded into resorts to shield them from ‘poaching’. The huge expenditure for the resort holiday and the wining and dining (and more) is not accounted for. His skill of keeping the flock together first came to light in 2002 when the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh of the Congress faced a no-confidence motion.  DKShi looked after the Maharastra MLAs at a resort in the outskirts of Bangalore and escorted them to Mumbai on the day of the trust vote which Deshmukh won.  It marked his graduation from state to national politics.

Recently, the BJP was working out a political strategy to defeat Ahmed Patel, Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi’s political mentor, in 2017 Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls and  the Congress feared that its MLAs would be poached and sought DKShi’s help to keep the flock together at Bangalore. While he was busy with the 43 MLAs in a resort, the Income Tax sleuths raided his residence and other premises besides the resort and unearthed disproportionate wealth and unaccounted cash.  He was escorted away from the resort and kept under surveillance. Notwithstanding all this, Ahmed Patel made it to the Rajya Sabha.

Shivkumar   also played a very prominent role in the formation of the Congress-Janata Dal coalition government when the Congress did not get even a working majority in the 2018 Assembly elections by supporting the party with least number of MLAs, JDS throwing to the winds the basic principle of the ’51:49 democracy’ where the party with the majority elects the CM. But the coalition government collapsed last year thanks to factionalism and rebellion in the Congress.

In Delhi’s Tihar jail for 35 days following arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with a money laundering case DKShi   was released on bail . Just as being accused of a crime does not make one guilty being released on bail does not mean honourably absolved by the court.  And yet he was  given a rousing reception at the behest of the Congress Supremo when he returned to Bangalore. The massive turnout and the procession from the airport to  the Congress office on Queen’s Road in the city was regarded as  his show of strength.

Writing about the raid, a blogger wrote  that when reports said Rs.300 crores were seized in the raids, the public reaction was, “What? Only 300 crores! It must be much more.” When she was a second year college student his daughter had declared Rs 87 crores as her wealth. No one asked how she earned it.

It is a known fact that there are no other Vokkaliga leaders worth the name in Congress in Karnataka today.   The Congress has suitably rewarded DKShi, as he has both money and muscle-power,  by making him the Karnataka Congress President.  It is believed that the State
Congress would consolidate its position with DKShi’s organizing skills as there are still three years left for the next Assembly elections. Congress President Sonia Gandhi in a letter to mark his taking charge, extolled his role in the party.

Chief Minister Yeddyurappa, who built BJP in Karnataka, is known for his grass-root  level organisational skills. Only D.K. Shivajumar can match them.