The Congressman finds supporters even among the rival BJP
The contrast was there for all to see. A few hours before former minister DK Shivakumar was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Delhi, one of the three deputy chief ministers in the BJP government in Karnataka put out a tweet that bluntly told the Congress trouble-shooter that he was ‘paying for his sins.’
Deputy chief minister Dr CN Aswathanarayan was telling the Congress-leader-with-a-swagger that he could not crib and cry about not being allowed to offer prayers at his father’s grave on Ganesh Chaturthi, a ritual that is sacrosanct among the Vokkaliga caste group in the Bengaluru rural region, because the ED had called him for questioning. Like Shivakumar, Aswathanarayan belongs to this community.
In less than 24 hours, Dr Aswathanarayana did everything possible to avoid replying to questions from reporters of regional news channels the morning after Shivakumar was arrested. The fallout of Shivakumar’s outburst and his subsequent arrest on the Karnataka electorate was there for all to see.
Chief minister BS Yediyurappa instantly made a statement which raised many eyebrows. He said that he was not happy about the arrest. “I pray to God he (Shivakumar) comes out of all this. Law will take its own course in such cases. But if he comes out, I will be the happiest.”
It was clear that the statement was not made just because he and Shivakumar are co-accused in a land denotification case currently pending before the Supreme Court.
In a little over 12 hours, the message had gone home, in particular, to the BJP leaders that there were protests not only in the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha constituency, which is represented by Shivakumar’s brother DK Suresh, but also in other parts of South Karnataka, the very night of his arrest. The protests escalated, some even turning violent, the next day.
There are multiple reasons for this sudden caution in the BJP. There is already a feeling in the Vokkaliga community that the tenure of their community man as chief minister, read HD Kumaraswamy, of the Janata Dal Secular-Congress coalition government, had been rudely cut short by the BJP.
Soon after that came the suicide of VG Siddhartha, owner of the powerful retail brand Café Coffee Day (CCD), who also belonged to the same community. His death has had a profound impact in the southern districts because he changed the way the young people thought in terms of a working life or entrepreneurship.
Siddhartha’s tense encounters with the Income Tax department began, strangely, after the IT department raided the resort, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, where Shivakumar was hosting his party MLAs from Gujarat.
That was the time when Home Minister Amit Shah was pitted against Ahmed Patel, Advisor to Congress President, in one of the toughest elections to the Rajya Sabha.
Some torn pieces of paper in a room occupied by Shivakumar at the resort are alleged to have given the central agency reason enough to register a complaint with the ED. The argument of Shivakumar’s advocates is that the IT complaint itself had been stayed by the Karnataka High Court and, therefore, the ED had no case.
But then, legalities have never been taken seriously by the masses, which is why late D Devaraj Urs had proudly said in 1978 that he had won in the “People’s Court,” rubbishing the report of the Commission of Inquiry into corruption charges against him. The then ruling party at the Centre, the Janata Party government, never thought of taking the Commission’s findings to their logical conclusion.
Many a politician in the country has followed Devaraj Urs’ “People’s Court” concept. But, the people have also ignored many a fault of the candidates they elect.
Shivakumar also falls in that category of candidates. Everyone knows that he hailed from a normal middle class agricultural family from Kanakapura in Bengaluru rural district before becoming one of the richest politicians in Karnataka.
Shivakumar came to Bengaluru in the early 1980s to work as an assistant to LN Murthy, who today feels he is a “failed” Congress leader. “Still, he is a very hard worker. Many think he is some kind of a rowdy. In fact, there is not a single case against him. That is the way he is. His persona is like that. That swagger is part of his personality,” said Murthy.
It is the same swagger that took him to Mumbai when rebel Congress and JDS MLAs who brought down the recent coalition government allegedly abetted by the BJP, were holed up in a hotel in July.
Shivakumar stood before the hotel alone arguing with police officials to let him in, even as BJP workers created a ruckus there. “Let there be one lakh slogans. This DK Shivakumar is not afraid of anything. I have come alone. I will die alone,” he said.
A hint of that emotion was also seen on television screens a couple of days ago when he came out of the ED office after his arrest. He complimented the BJP for getting him arrested. “I am not a coward. I will face it,” he told reporters.
This trait can be seen since when he began his political career. A few months after he turned 25, he had the “temerity” to take on HD Deve Gowda, a powerful Vokkaliga leader in 1985.
Almost two decades later when the Congress party decided to back Gowda’s son HD Kumaraswamy for chief ministership of the Janata Dal Secular-Congress coalition government, Shivakumar simply fell in line.
In fact, some jealous Congressmen even thought he had become part of the JDS clique within the coalition.
Some partymen believe that it is his way of making an “investment” because his ambition is to become the chief minister of Karnataka. “It is like he told some of us to invest in land because that will fetch us money in the future. He treats political investment too on par with financial investment,” said one of his loyalists on condition of anonymity.
That is the approach that made him expand his area of interest from Bengaluru Rural to North Karnataka districts of Belagavi and Ballari.
In fact, it was his efforts that made the Congress candidate VS Ugrappa win the by-election to the Lok Sabha from Ballari last year. That was the first time the Congress had wrested the seat from the BJP in two decades because of the dominance of the Reddy brothers.
The question that is being discussed in political circles is whether Shivakumar will be able to sustain the sympathy in his favour in the Vokkaliga belt which encompasses the region where the Deve Gowda family also holds sway. Or whether he would lose it if the Congress party does not back him adequately. More so because it is in the Old Mysuru region that former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who is said not to see eye to eye with Shivakumar, also has his political base.
Said a JDS leader on condition of anonymity – “If Kumaraswamy is tired of politics as he has been saying and gives way to Shivakumar, it is possible for him to sustain sympathy and grow. Otherwise, one does not think he will be able to, given the number of adversaries he has in the Congress.”
Shivakumar is at the cusp of a crucial stage in his political career. It could mark a bright future or he could get felled by the court cases. Whether that will be as a Congressman or a JDS man is a different matter.