OPN DK Siddaramaiah
Karnataka Congress president D K Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah emerge as the two main contenders for the top post after Congress party's emphatic victory in the Karnataka state elections Image Credit: ANI

In India the Congress party swept the Karnataka elections because mass leader Siddaramaiah, 75, a true social justice warrior, and D.K. Shivakumar, 61, the best crisis manager in the party, worked unitedly to script the win.

As Siddaramaiah seems to be winning the race for the top, we thought we would do a SWAT Analysis of both the leaders, going beyond the headlines to inform our readers.

Now, the Congress faces a problem of plenty, as both the leaders want to be the chief minister (CM). Siddaramaiah is the mass leader who has been CM before and managed to serve a full term. It’s been a hard scrabble life for Siddaramaiah to climb the political ladder - a life of great opportunity and huge tragedy (his older son Rakesh died of multiple organ failure in 2016 at 38).

DKS belongs to the important Vokkaliga caste and is the “Sankat Mochan” (Hanumanji the saviour) of the Congress party. His calling cards are an emotional loyalty to the party and the Gandhi family, courage - has not backed down despite a slew of cases initiated against him by the BJP - and even a stint in prison.

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A scrappy fighter

The late Ahmed Patel, the uber political strategist of the Congress, once told me that DKS was the best crisis manager in the party. DKS proved this when he sequestered Gujarat MLAs in his resort for Patel’s own Rajya Sabha election. After I tweeted this, Mumtaz Patel, daughter of Ahmed, confirmed this with a tweet.

Similarly, DKS had saved the Congress government in Maharashtra led by the late Vilas Rao Deshmukh.

DKS is among the richest politicians in India. In 2018, he declared assets of ₹840 crores. He has personally funded large legs of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. His brother D.K. Suresh is also a politician.

DKS is a scrappy fighter given to making emotional comments publicly and breaking down because Sonia Gandhi, former Congress president, visited him in prison. The Congress fought the Karnataka election on a social justice plank and got unprecedented support from the poorer and deprived sections of society.

Siddaramaiah remains an icon for this section, and logically they expect the party not to disappoint them. While Karnataka is a rich state by Indian standards, Delhi-based analysts make the mistake of only equating it with Bengaluru - that’s a completely incorrect conflation.

As both the candidates push for themselves, they both represent very different politics and priorities. Siddaramaiah is considered a good administrator and Rahul Gandhi favorite because they are now promoting a common social justice plank of a caste census in India and resetting reservations based on that.

Across Karnataka, Siddaramaiah is the rooted mass leader and was projected as such by the party.

The great CM debate

DKS, on the other hand, is now impatient. He has given his all to the party and finally wants a reckoning and a reward. His claims are undeniable, and that is the dilemma the decision-makers are currently facing. Even some mutts in Karnataka are pushing for DKS.

With the general elections barely a hundred days away, the Congress, which is financially depleted, needs a leader who can effortlessly mobilise resources for the party. The Congress is looking at the other elections looming up, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, where it is locked in a bipolar contest with the BJP.

Ironically, the Congress had won all three states last time around, and the intense competition to be CM wrecked the mandate in Madhya Pradesh, with Jyotiraditya Scindia, angry at being denied the CM job, defecting to the BJP, bringing down the Kamal Nath government.

The rocky relationship between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, his erstwhile deputy, in Rajasthan is the worst-kept secret of the Congress.

Having been burnt earlier, the Congress is extremely cautious. The majority of Karnataka MLAs support Siddaramaiah, and that is being factored in as the party decides. An emotional Sonia Gandhi is leaning towards DKS. As the juicy political thriller unfolds, you can count on SWAT analysis.