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G. Parameshwara faces uphill task in second stint as Karnataka Congress chief

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-06-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru: Karnataka home minister G. Parameshwara has won the second term as president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), a key and keenly contested post to hold a year before the assembly polls and two years before the Lok Sabha elections.

Parameshwara has decided to resign as Karnataka home minister, saying he wants to focus only on the party now.

Parameshwara is one of the few KPCC presidents who held an active post in the government which gave the 65-year-old the power to wield influence over his partymen and effectively deal with problems, including rising dissent against chief minister Siddaramaiah, containing the exodus of senior and veteran leaders to opposition parties and stopping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) juggernaut in the state, analysts and senior Congress leaders said.

“There is much caste conflict in the lower rung leadership of the party between some backward classes like the Vokkaligas and Kurubas. Parameshwara will have to quickly contain this issue as both are influential communities and have to be brought together in order to mobilise the party,” said Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnataka University, Dharwad.

Parameshwara, who hails from the Dalit community, will have to ensure other dominant castes like Lingayats and Vokkaligas are not neglected in their pandering to backward classes, the analyst added.

Recent interactions between All India Congress Committee (AICC)—led by K.C.Venugopal, general secretary and Karnataka in charge—and district-level functionaries saw many complaints against the functioning of Siddaramaiah, who will lead the party in 2018 as well.

Though naming of key posts would possibly avoid any further tussle on leadership change, containing dissent—built up largely in the last one year—will have to be quelled at the earliest to consolidate the cadre to retain power and stall BJP’s dream of “Congress Mukth Bharat”.

“He has to say fall in line or face the music,” a senior member of the AICC said, requesting anonymity.

The June 2016 cabinet reshuffle, in which 14 senior and seasoned ministers from prominent caste groups were replaced with first-time legislators, continues to be the primary reason why many seniors are still holding a grudge against Siddaramaiah.

Some have openly called for Siddaramaiah’s removal and backed others like Parameshwara to replace him.

However, party leaders insist that the media has only covered the dissent in the party, and not the welfare politics the Congress practised in Karnataka.

“There have been only charges of contrived scams. Siddaramaiah’s government has not been embroiled in them,” the AICC member mentioned above said.

According to Ramaswamy, Parameshwara should “carefully decorate” mass appealing achievements like Anna Bhagya and Ksheera Bhagya as the party’s without upsetting the government, which would be an “architectural challenge”.

“He (Parameshwara) has to improve social media interactions and outreach to highlight the achievements,” Ramaswamy said, while adding that so far Congress has lacked in its technical ability to connect with its voters. In fact, citizens in urban regions have used social media to attack the government, which the BJP has done well to encash.

The government has been on the backfoot with corruption allegations, lack of infrastructure in Bengaluru, sex scandals and dealing with farmers in the Cauvery and Mahadayi river water crisis in the face of its second successive drought year—a cause that could sway the election results.

Former chief minister and Lingayat strongman B.S.Yeddyurappa has promised to waive off farm loans and resolve the river water dispute “as soon as he is elected into power”. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had waived off farm loans in Uttar Pradesh as part of its manifesto earlier this year, but is yet to heed to similar requests from Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka.

Veteran leaders who have now jumped over to the BJP have also used the opportunity to attack the government and its attitude under Siddaramaiah. At least five senior leaders, including former chief minister S.M.Krishna, V.Srinivas Prasad and Jayaprakash Hegde, have joined the BJP. Others like A.H.Vishwanath, Janardhana Poojary and Jaffer Shariff—who are still with the Congress—have blamed Siddaramaiah’s “arrogant attitude” for the exodus. Parameshwara has to reach out to these veterans and reassure them that they would not be forgotten or sidelined, said Ramaswamy.

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