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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 22, May 27, 2023

The Siddaramaiah Phenomenon in Karnataka Politics | P. S. Jayaramu

Sunday 28 May 2023


by P. S. Jayaramu

(23th May 2023)

Siddaramaiah was recently sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka for the second time. He is a pan-Karnataka mass leader from the kuruba, OBC community. He and the KPCC President D. K. Shiva Kumar led the Congress Party in an intense electoral battle with the BJP and registered an emphatic victory bagging 135 seats, with 43 percent vote share. The ruling BJP faced a humiliating defeat securing only 66 seats though its vote share remained intact at 36 percent.

An analysis of the phenomenon of Siddaramaih in Karnataka politics is very much in order. Siddaramaiah entered the Karnataka Assembly in 1983 on a Bharathiya Lok Dal ticket but soon joined the Janata Party. Impressed by his love for the Kannada language Ramakrishna Hegde, the first non-Congress Chief Minister of the State, appointed him as President of the Kannada Kavalu (oversight) Samiti to supervise the implementation of Kannada as official language. When the State witnessed mid-term polls in 1985, Siddaramaiah was re-elected from the Chamundeswari constituency in Mysore and joined Hegde’s government as a minister. After the split in the Janata Party, Siddaramaiah joined the Janata Dal (secular) headed by Deve Gowda. However, conscious of his backward class background and identity, he decided to focus on mobilising the support of the OBCs and towards that end, created the Ahinda group, representing the minorities, backward classes, and Dalits. His address at the massive Ahinda rally in Hubli in 2005 led to the snapping of his ties with the JD(S) and eventual expulsion from the Party.

In 2006, Siddaramaiah’s political instincts led him to join the Congress, an umbrella party, closer to his ideological leanings. He started consolidating his position in the Party, given the absence of a mass OBC leader in the Congress. In the 2013 Assembly elections, he played a key role in bringing the Party to power.

During his term as chief minister from 2013-18, Siddaramaiah introduced many welfare schemes, like the Anna Bhagya scheme to provide 30 kgs of rice at ₹1 per kg to people below the poverty line ( (BPL families) for a month. He followed it with the loan waiver decision for the OBCs. He also started the ‘Indira Canteens’ for the benefit of the poor and the middle classes. As an experienced politician, Siddaramaiah is credited to have presented 13 budgets. He managed the finances prudently, keeping a tight leash on borrowings. His tenth budget presented in 2015-16 was marked by a revenue surplus of ₹911 crores.

As a champion of the OBCs, Siddaramaiah has many things in common with the late Devaraj Urs, who put an end to the supremacy of the dominance of the lingayat and vokkaliga communities in State Politics. Devaraj Urs implemented a series of backward classes policies with reservations for OBCs in education and employment, in addition to getting them elected to the state assembly in higher numbers. In keeping with his commitment to social justice, Siddaramaiah appointed a commission to prepare a Social and Educational Survey, popularly known as caste census, with the goal of enhancing opportunities for the backward classes to play an important role in state politics., apart from enhancing educational, social and economic benefits to them. (The demand for caste census is now an all-India phenomenon ) Though the Commission report has not been publicised, it is believed to have pointed to the decline of lingayat and vokkaliga population possibly affecting their future role in state politics. No wonder, the two communities are opposed to the report.

It is against the above setting that we have to analyse the role played by Siddaramaiah in coming up with strategies to snatch power from the BJP in the 2023 assembly elections. Siddaramaiah played a key role in the distribution of tickets, negotiating hard with the Party high command, along with KPCC President Shiva Kumar. Additionally, in keeping with his commitment to secular values, Siddaramaiah concentrated his attention on putting the Basavaraj Bommai government on the mat for its communal polarisation and Hindutva politics. The announcement about banning the Bajrang Dal, if the Party came to power, had a salutary effect with nearly 80 percent of Muslims voting for the Congress. He constantly criticised the so-called benefits of the double engine sarkar of the BJP, publicising the injustices meted out to the state in the transfer of tax revenues due to it from the GST collections and as per the interim report of the Finance Commission.

In order to augment the welfare programmes to offset the sufferings of the common man due to price rise and unemployment, Siddaramaiah pushed the Party to come up with five guarantees aimed at supplying 200 units of free electricity, ₹2000 to women head of BPL families, ₹3000 to unemployed youth for two years, free bus travel to women in state transport buses and supply of 10 kilos of rice to the BPL families. The five guarantees in a way guaranteed the victory of the Congress at the hustlings. In a way, it was a triumph of welfarism vs Hindutva. Siddaramaiah has stated after assuming charge as CM that with prudent financial management and with a budget outlay of around 3.15 lakh crores annually, his government would be able to honour the commitment.


While there are many things that go in favour of Siddaramaiah, he also faces a few challenges. Firstly, he will have to work in harmony with the Deputy Chief Minister Shiva Kumar who was bent on becoming the CM first and yielded only when Sonia Gandhi reportedly persuaded him to relent with the promise of offering the post to him after 30 months. Secondly, Siddaramaiah will have to possibly agree to an equitable formula for sharing regarding the choice of ministers and the distribution of portfolios with the Shiva Kumar faction. Thirdly and most importantly, Siddaramaiah will have to carry the other OBC communities and the Dalit groups with him in order to have a smooth sailing.

In conclusion, the Congress Party may find it electoral beneficial to include the ‘Karnataka guarantees model’ in the assembly elections due in four States later during this year and the Lok Sabha elections of May, 2024. Involving Siddaramaiah in election campaigns may be useful to counter the BJP.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, at Bangalore University and a former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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