Bengaluru: On 13 May 2013, Siddaramaiah, a socialist leader whose politics were pro-farmer, pro-Kannada and pro-backward class, took oath as Karnataka’s 22nd chief minister in the name of “truth” in a jam-packed Sri Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, attended by over 50,000 people.
With G.Parameshwara losing his seat in 2013 and senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge pulling out of the chief minister’s race, Siddaramaiah was the obvious choice, but it wasn’t one that was readily embraced by state Congress leaders, many of whom had waited decades for the opportunity.
Siddaramaiah was seen as an “outsider”, having moved to the Congress just seven years earlier from the Janata Dal (Secular).
Despite the rumblings at the start of his term, 69-year-old Siddaramaiah is all set to become the first chief minister in Karnataka since D.Devaraj Urs (1972-77) to complete full five years in office.
With around six weeks to go for the 12 May assembly elections Siddaramaiah is aiming to repeat the Congress’s 2013 performance where it bagged 123 of the total 224 seats.
“He has been a pragmatic kind of person, not prone to taking extreme positions. That itself has been helpful,” said Sumanth Raman, a Tamil Nadu-based political analyst and commentator. Known for his coalition-building abilities, Siddaramaiah politics have been influenced by Dalit icon Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and 12th century social reformer Basavanna.
However, it is his effort to earn the trust of the party high command that helped him the most. “In the Congress, if you are not close to the high command, you will be destabilized and be out,” Raman said.
Though there was a concerted effort to oust Siddaramaiah, especially after the July 2016 cabinet reshuffle in which 14 senior ministers were replaced by some first-time legislators, the leader held on to his chair.
It was the April 2017 victory at Nanjangud and Gundlupet bypolls that cemented his post, subsequently named by the high command as the face of the 2018 elections.
Narendar Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) says that apart from his politics, Siddaramaiah has been very “skillful” in managing finances. Siddaramaiah, known for introducing value-added tax (VAT) in Karnataka, presented his record 13th state budget earlier this year as finance minister. “He has managed finances and used it for welfare schemes,” Pani says.
Established now as the front runner for the top post, Siddaramaiah enjoys a career- high popularity mostly on account of his welfare schemes that are centered around food security. Having scored over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on issues like a separate flag for Karnataka and separate minority religion status for Lingayats, Siddaramaiah has become the face of the anti-BJP mobilization nationally.livemint