Bengaluru: As the 13-month-old Congress-JD(S) combine in Karnataka hangs by a thread, DK Shivakumar is the man of the moment. A Congress warhorse, Shivakumar has been deputed to placate rebel MLAs camped in a Mumbai hotel and pull the government out of the current crisis.
The Congress leader, however, is no stranger to this role. In 2002, the Congress-led Vilasrao Deshmukh government in Maharashtra was about to collapse. Fearing a defeat, he moved his MLAs to neighbouring Karnataka, ruled by SM Krishna.
Krishna entrusted the responsibility of keeping them safe to his young Urban Development Minister DK Shivakumar. He herded them to Eagleton Resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru and hosted them for a week. On the day of trust vote, he escorted them back to Mumbai and the Vilasrao government survived. And Shivakumar hit the national headlines. That incident also helped him cement his relationship with the Gandhi family.
Shivakumar, known as DKS in Karnataka politics, is an all-weather man for the Congress. He reached the top of state politics by fighting the Gowda family in their stronghold. His prolonged fight with the Gowdas is legendary.
Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, won his first Assembly election in 1989 from Sathanur in Kanakapura taluk by defeating the giant of Karnataka politics HD Deve Gowda. When S Bangarappa became the CM in 1990, he recognised Shivakumar’s talent and made him a junior minister with Prisons and Homeguards portfolio. Even though the portfolio was insignificant, Shivakumar caught the attention of the top brass because of his leadership skills and daring. He was just 29 years old and that mattered a lot.
When Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal came to power in 1994, Shivakumar was one of the very few who survived the storm. He fought a battle with the Gowdas even when Deve Gowda was the PM.
When a fellow Vokkaliga, SM Krishna, became the CM in 1999, he made Shivakumar his Urban Development minister. Shivakumar behaved like de-facto CM, rubbing many top leaders the wrong way. In the 2002 Lok Sabha bypolls, he fought against Deve Gowda from Kanakapura and lost. He took his revenge by defeating Deve Gowda in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls from the same seat by fielding a journalist, Tejaswini, against him.
But the Krishna government lost the Assembly polls held along with Lok Sabha polls. Congress and JD(S) formed a coalition government and Shivakumar was kept out. He had to wait till January 2014 to return to Karnataka Cabinet.
He had held the post of KPCC working president during Yeddyurappa’s government. But he was ineffective as the head of Congress.
When Siddaramaiah-led Congress came to power in 2013, Shivakumar was kept out on charges of corruption. But he did not quit the party or say anything against the high command. He was made the Power Minister in January 2014.
Even though he never shared a good rapport with Siddaramaiah, they stuck together because of their common enemy — the Gowdas. There was the occasional bickering, but they worked together.
When the BJP tried to defeat Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha election in August 2017, the same Shivakumar had sheltered Gujarat Congress MLAs. He was raided by the Income Tax and ED, but he did not budge. Ahmed Patel won and Shivakumar had the last laugh.
He missed the chance to become KPCC president in May 2017 because Siddaramaiah saw him as a threat. But he did not utter a word against the party or Siddaramaiah. He was the campaign committee chairman during the last election.
After the elections delivered a fractured mandate, the same Shivakumar joined hands with the Gowda family to keep the BJP out of power. He had kept them at the same Eagleton resort for three days and later took them to Hyderabad by bus. He made sure that no Congress MLA switched sides and even brought two “missing” MLAs — Pratap Gouda Patil and Anand Singh — back into the party.
Shivakumar is liked and hated in equal measures. He is a polarising personality but his supporters love and admire him because they claim he stands by them during crisis.
His enemies fear him because he is vindictive. He makes no bones about his ambition to be the chief minister of Karnataka before he retires from politics. Speaking to this reporter, he had said that he had won seven Assembly elections in a row and had done a lot for the party which makes him eligible for the post. And most agree with him.