Krishna’s return to Karnataka bothers Congress leaders

March 6th, 2008 - 6:23 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi
New Delhi, March 6 (IANS) The return of former Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna to state politics after a stint as Maharashtra governor appears to be causing a flutter more among state Congress leaders than the opposition parties as they see him as likely to unsettle them. Though a Congress victory in the forthcoming Karnataka assembly elections is a matter of conjecture, the party has many contenders for the chief minister’s post. Krishna, who was chief minister 1999-2004, will certainly want to throw his hat in the ring again. The elections could well be held as early as in May.

The state came under president’s rule Nov 28, 2007, when the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) withdrew support to the week-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government. Before that, the JD-S was in power with the BJP support.

Krishna was pushing for return to active politics in Karnataka for the last few months.

“He wanted to quit Maharashtra and return to active politics. But some Karnataka Congress leaders suggested that he be given a cabinet berth in the union government or even an ambassadorship to keep him away from the state,” a Congress general secretary told IANS.

When Krishna finally Wednesday got the nod from party president Sonia Gandhi to quit as Maharashtra governor, he was a happy man. However, when a beaming Krishna emerged from Rashtrapati Bhawan, he refused to speak on his chief ministerial ambitions.

“Nobody becomes chief minister candidate like that. I am going to my roots in Karnataka to work as an ordinary Congress worker and strengthen the party,” he said. Party sources say Krishna is set to head the Congress’ election management co-ordination committee in Karnataka.

Many within the party rank and file are reportedly unhappy with the new development.

Though Congress leader and former chief minister Dharam Singh welcomed Krishna’s re-entry, his statement - “His (Krishna’s) return will strengthen the party in the state” - is seen as only for form.

In the 1999 elections, Singh, a Rajput leader from north Karnataka, had to make way for Krishna as chief minister.

Krishna’s proximity to the party high command may see him again pip other Congress leaders to the chief minister’s post - that is, if the party is in a position to form the next government.

The Congress is banking on Krishna to win back Vokkaligas, the Other Backward Classes (OBC) community to which he belongs and who are said to have moved closer to JD-S leader Deve Gowda, who too belongs to the community. Vokkaligas are polarised against the Lingayats, with the latter cosying up to the BJP.

But the Congress would need the support of other communities too, like the Dalits and Muslims, and antagonising any would affect the party’s prospects.

Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit leader who is another strong chief ministerial hopeful, may see his chances dim with Krishna in the fray. As if unfolding this possibility, party general secretary Prithviraj Chavan said: “Usually the Pradesh Congress Committee head is not the chief ministerial candidate.”

But there are exceptions to the rule too.

Kharge, who like Dharam Singh hails from north Karnataka, can take heart from the fact that Krishna was KPCC chief when he became chief minister in 1999.

Siddaramaiah, an OBC leader who was once close to Deve Gowda and is now with the Congress, is strong enough to have a say in the state. Jaffer Sharif, a former union minister and a leader from the state, also has a say on important party issues.

Ahead of the polls, the party could face hurdles in distribution of party tickets with each of these leaders clamouring for a share for their candidates.

Though Congress leaders point out that the party lost the 2004 elections under Krishna’s chief ministership, others say it was due to the anti-incumbency factor. Krishna himself says: “I had ensured victory in 1999 and can do so again.”

While the BJP would seek to play the martyr to draw sympathy vote because its government was brought down by coalition partner JD-S withdrawing support, the Congress could face an uphill task, made more difficult by the internecine conflicts.

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