NEW DELHI: In picking Siddaramaiah, Congress junked its philosophy of picking “weak and manageable” leaders to head state governments out of fear that power in the hands of satraps would leave the leadership vulnerable to arm-twisting and rebellion, as with the YSR-Jagan duo in Andhra Pradesh.
The elevation of the OBC chieftain in Karnataka marks a seminal moment in the Congress game of centralized leadership revolving around proven allegiance to the Gandhi family.
The party’s choice of CMs, though reflecting sycophancy, also stemmed from the pragmatism that installing leaders with potential to become autonomous would be inimical to the long-term interest of party unity.
Observers found it ironical that Congress chose the radical turn in Bangalore where its success was facilitated by the breaking away of B S Yeddyurappa from BJP. The decision became more surprising as the alternative to Siddaramaiah was the perfect fit for Congress — Mallikarjuna Kharge, a senior dalit of proven loyalty.
Siddaramaiah is his own man – wielding a strong support base among backwards and with a proven record as administrator. He broke away from JD(S) in 2006 after H D Deve Gowda began to promote son H D Kumaraswamy, never hiding his CM ambition.
In Congress, he remained an outsider and had to flex muscles to become leader of opposition after the 2007 polls.
Though such a profile in the past would have sent jitters among AICC apparatchiks, the policy turn stems from Rahul Gandhi’s announcement at the Jaipur ‘chintan shivir’ that Congress has to groom strong leaders in states to regain its political muscle.
The preference for Siddaramaiah stands in stark contrast to the picks in Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra and Uttarakhand. In each, Congress preferred to be safe than sorry, still reeling under the chaos wrought by the death of YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Reddy had a free run for five years and then his resourceful son Jaganmohan broke away after being refused the CM’s post.
The preference for a feeble leader in Vijay Bahuguna ahead of Harish Rawat, Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana and later Prithviraj Chavan in Maharashtra were criticized strongly from within.
However, the strategy came unstuck in Himachal Pradesh where Virbhadra Singh revolted on being sidelined last December and is now the party’s CM for the fourth time.
A success with Siddaramaiah could revive the era of satraps as sought by Rahul.