Karnataka Congress leader Roshan Baig asks if the Congress has taken the votes of minorities for granted
The targeted attack of a senior Congress leader from Karnataka on a close aide of Rahul Gandhi has received the customary response from the Grand Old Party. It has issued a show cause notice to the leader without introspecting as to whether the basic point he has made deserves to be thought over.
Roshan Baig, a seven-term MLA and former minister, lashed out at KC Venugopal, AICC general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, by calling him a "buffoon," describing Siddaramaiah, former chief minister, as "arrogant" and Dinesh Gundu Rao, state party president, as "flop show."
By the end of the day, the Congress party issued him a notice asking him why disciplinary action cannot be taken against him for his statements that have embarrassed the party, affected its standing and that were against the interests of the party.
And, in typical dissident fashion, Baig responded through a tweet to say that he would not even bother responding because it was sent on the orders of those whose incompetence he had exposed.
Baig has been accused by Rao of rank opportunism. "It is pure political opportunism and leaders should not indulge in such gimmicks." The opportunism that Rao is referring to is that as long as Baig was a minister and was not denied a Lok Sabha nomination, he had no complaints of this kind against the state party leadership.
But he saw problems when he was denied a party ticket from the Bangalore Central Lok Sabha constituency and Siddaramaiah preferred to field Rizwan Arshad as the party candidate. Baig said: "Yes. I am angry about being denied the seat." But, his anger was more, for many other reasons, he explained.
Firstly, he is upset by the manner in which Venugopal has conducted himself. Baig accused Venugopal of not conducting himself properly during the distribution of tickets in the 2018 assembly elections. "The way the assembly election campaign was conducted, the Congress number did not move beyond 79 seats. It is on this basis that I have come to the conclusion that he is a buffoon," he said. After the elections, he alleged that ministerial posts were also sold.
The former minister held Venugopal responsible for the Lingayat controversy which singed the Congress of 25 seats. This is the controversy wherein the then Siddaramaiah government recommended to the Centre to give the true followers of Lord Basaveshwara the minority religion status. The issue had angered the entire Lingayat community and the BJP gained from it by saying that the Congress was dividing their caste group between Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats.
"As AICC in-charge he could have advised the chief minister. Or he could have even taken the matter to the Congress president and got him to speak to Siddaramaiah. He did not do either," Baig said.
Baig was unfazed by the results of the exit polls because he was expecting it. But what has upset Baig is the approach adopted by the party towards workers belonging to the minority communities. "The leadership simply overlooked workers belonging to the Muslim and Christian communities. In their mind, the approach was - where will these people go after leaving the Congress. This has hurt our sentiments," he said.
"The party just overlooked the Muslims and Christian communities. Where will they go was the approach," Baig said. He pointed out that three seats used to be given to the Muslims and, at least, one seat was given to a Christian in any Lok Sabha election.
This time only the Bangalore Central seat was given to a Muslim, two other seats were denied and the Christians were also not given a seat to contest. "At least when the Muslims and Christians had voted en bloc for the Congress, shouldn’t the party have given them representation," Baig asked.
The party viewpoint, expressed informally, by senior party leaders at the time of selection of candidates was that "winnability" was the sole criteria. But then detractors of this policy have wondered, privately as well, as to why the same factor was not applicable when members of wrong caste groups were given tickets. For instance, one partyman who did not want to be named said that in certain constituencies it would have been able to win a couple of more seats if only an "upper" caste man was fielded rather than one belonging to the OBC.
Baig believes that the party has taken the Muslim and Christian vote for granted. This "mismanagement of affairs has saddened me."
But the party leadership, both at Delhi and in Karnataka, did not respond to the specific charge that Baig was making - that the approach of the party was of taking for granted the votes of the minority communities.
Instead the party reacted to the headlines appearing in news television channels in the typical manner in which the Grand Old Party has done so in the past by issuing him a show-cause notice.
At least one spokesperson of the party on a television channel repeated the statement issued by Rao that Baig had indulged in opportunistic politics because he was not made a minister and denied a party ticket for the Lok Sabha election.
Clearly, the party had not taken into account that the attitude of "who else will the minorities vote for" could boomerang on it.
The attitude is not very different from the way the party had, long ago, dealt with the Dalit vote. It went on to the formation of the Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP in some parts of the country and, in recent times, has shifted to the BJP as well.
Baig for now is not saying if he would join the BJP. But he is also not completely ruling it out either. He prefers to wait and see, at least, until the results are out.