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Siddaramaiah: a poor strategist

A father’s love for his son proved to be Siddaramaiah’s undoing

Chamundeshwari did not allow Sidda-ramaiah a last hurrah. The chief minister lost the election to his former poll manager, GT Deve Gowda.
It showed up Siddaramaiah as a poor strategist, giving up his safe Varuna seat for his son, Yathindra, to test his luck from the choppy waters of Cham-undeshwari. A father’s love for his son proved to be Siddaramaiah’s undoing.

Fortunately for Sidda-ramaiah, Badami saved face for him. The chief minister survived moments of heartache when he was trailing behind B Sreeramulu to finally emerge victorious.

But the swiftness with which Siddaramaiah now has been reduced to persona non grata is no surprise. Having lost one of the two high-profile contests he engaged in, he has lost much of his sheen as a leader and would find it difficult to enforce his will on the Congress leadership.

In typical Congress style, much of the blame would be placed at Siddaramaiah’s door. But this time, it would be deservedly so. Because in no state has a satrap wielded as much power as Siddaramaiah did.

He had a decisive say in the selection of candidates, the strategy and the tone and tenor of the campaign. He underwent a massive makeover on Twitter but though his witty and sarcastic tweets got a lot of retweets, they did not translate into votes for the Congress.

Why did Siddaramaiah flop is the question many in the Congress are grappling with. After all, till just a few days ago, he was seen as a politician who had checkmated the BJP with the Lingayat separate religion and with the regional identity card. In hindsight, it seems the voters did not appreciate the divisive agenda adopted by him.

Siddaramaiah went overboard emphasising the north-south divide, emerging as a champion of south Indian states, alleging discrimination against non-BJP-ruled states. The CM was playing victim, painting Narendra Modi and New Delhi as discriminatory. The calculation was that it will help push the BJP into a corner, as a party that does not give Karnataka its due — giving just 47 paise for every rupee the state gives to Delhi in terms of taxes. The result showed the strategy did not succeed.

The move to accord separate religion status to the Lingayats was another divisive move Siddaramaiah made. Though he couched it in the garb of respecting a long-standing demand of the Lingayat community, the verdict shows the BJP narrative, that the CM was dividing the Hindu community, gained greater currency.

The image of Siddaramaiah over the five years that he ruled as CM was that of an anti-Vokkaliga and anti-Dalit leader. In the Old Mysuru belt, in particular, he was seen as someone who had sidelined Vokkaliga talent. The results in the region are a fallout of the extent to which he had riled the Vokkaliga community.

With his reluctance to induct G Parameshwara as deputy CM and the exit of Dalit leader Srinivas Prasad, Siddaramaiah acquired the reputation of someone who did not accord space to or respect leaders from the community. In February 2015, when the chorus to replace him with a Dalit CM gained decibel level, he famously said he too is a Dalit as he too hails from an oppressed section of society.

Siddaramaiah’s tweets calling Modi a “north Indian outsider’’ and subsequently threatening him with defamation did not show the CM in a good light.
What made matters worse was Siddaramaiah’s penchant to settle old scores. He got a corruption case against GT Deve Gowda transferred to the Anti-Corruption Bureau and looked vindictive in the bargain. Gowda believes Siddaramaiah did so only after he realised that he will be his political foe in the Chamundeshwari election. Given his old relations with people in the JD(S) parivaar, handling friends-turned-foes more smartly may have worked better.

The CM also went out of his way to insult Deve Gowda, nudging Congress president Rahul Gandhi to christen Janata Dal (S) as Janata Dal (Sangh Parivar). While it is true that the JD(S) and BJP engaged in tactical understanding in many constituencies, like Chamundeshwari, calling Gowda’s party the B team of the BJP only upset the former Prime Minister. Siddaramaiah did so to ensure the two parties remained foes, ensuring against anyone else from the Congress becoming CM with JD(S) support.

But did the Congress high command have a choice but to back Siddaramaiah? No. On the contrary, if it had followed the BJP template of leadership where Delhi decided everything, it would have been accused of running amok in Bengaluru.

The Congress in many ways ran an almost perfect campaign. Where it lost out, apart from the mistakes Siddaramaiah made, was in terms of not having the last mile connectivity. The RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal did it for the BJP adding muscle to their panna pramukhs. The Congress just could not match up.

Since 2006, when he joined the Congress, Siddaramaiah was always seen as the outsider. He fought against it to become CM in 2013. But with the verdict on Tuesday, the Congress has lost no time in reaching out to HD Deve Gowda, offering the CM’s chair to HD Kumaraswamy.

It is as if to tell Gowda and Sons to forget and ignore what Siddaramaiah said, as if to say he does not represent the Congress line anymore. Jo Haara, Wahi Siddaramaiah.

The flushing out of Siddaramaiah from the Congress system is almost complete.

This article was first published in Newslaundry.