Bengaluru: Lucknow's 'pehle aap' etiquette seems to have travelled down south with ministers in Karnataka being the new practitioners of the courtesy.
While elections in the state were held last year, the debate over "who should be the chief minister" is yet not over. And, in a sentiment that is completely unlike politicians, it's a 'pehle aap' playing out – where every CM, ex-CM, wannabe-CM and should-have-been-CM is eyeing the top state post.
The JDS and Congress came together in a coalition in May last year, after no single party got full mandate in the Karnataka Assembly. While Congress had 80 MLAs in the 224-member Assembly, the JDS had 37 MLAs. Despite being the lesser partner, the JDS was offered the CM post as part of a long-term pre-poll pact that included an arrangement for the Lok Sabha election.
Over the past three months, there have been many Congress MLAs loyal to former CM Siddaramaiah who have spoken out at different junctures about how they would want to see him re-installed as the CM.
The chorus has suddenly grown stronger since polling ended in Karnataka on April 23. On May 7, Congress MLA K Sudhakar said he wanted Siddaramaiah to be the CM again. Home Minister MB Patil too said the Congress Legislature Party leader must become the chief minister again.
Two days later, Skill Development Minister PT Parameshwara Naik told mediapersons that Siddaramaiah should become the chief minister “in the interest of the state”.
Quizzed by reporters, Siddaramaiah himself only reacted saying: “That kursi (chair) is not empty now. So the question does not arise.” That has not stopped other loyalists who have said that, for them, he will always remain CM.
Perhaps in a reaction to all this, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy told an election campaign in Gulbarga in north Karnataka last week that he has long felt that Congress’ most-prominent leader in north Karnataka – Mallikarjuna Kharge – should have become CM long back. That Kharge, a Dalit, would have been ideal as a CM, and he has not been given his due. In fact, Kharge has been considered as a chief ministerial candidate twice before – in 2013 when Congress got complete majority and about ten years before that too.
But others had been chosen over him and he had been placated with other important roles at the Centre, and his son was given a Cabinet berth in the State after that.
Kharge is not an MLA currently, and is a candidate for the Lok Sabha — but that did not stop tongues wagging about how a Dalit was wronged in being by-passed for this position, now that Kumaraswamy had openly talked about it.
The Bharatiya Janata Party hit back soon enough with party president BS Yeddyurappa asking him to resign immediately and install Kharge as the CM. Party spokesperson Shobha Karandlaje even told Kumaraswamy: “A senior leader like Kharge should have been CM. In fact, Congress with 80 seats should have got the CM post. Let’s see you resigning today and crowning him CM tomorrow.”
Recently, Kumaraswamy had ranted about how the Congress had sidelined Kharge. Reacting to it, Siddaramaiah hit back on social media, telling Kumaraswamy: “What Kumaraswamy said is right. Mallikarjuna Kharge is not just ideal for CM, but perhaps greater roles too. Both Congress and JDS have many who could be ideal CM candidates. Among them, one is HD Revanna. The time should be right for all of these to materialise.”
His reference to how the JDS has always preferred Kumaraswamy to his elder brother HD Revanna of course rankles feathers in the JDS camp. After all, the love-hate relationship between the two parties is no secret.
Other leaders like Congress trouble-shooter DK Shivakumar and Deputy CM G Parameshwara have talked about how they, too, are aspirants as they are not ‘sanyasis’.
Parameshwara, however, said, “When we hold fresh elections and there is need to find a CM, then we can discuss this. There is no need to discuss it now.”
It could be brushed off as light banter or taken seriously, but the CM’s chair is not up for a Musical Chair’s game.