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Victory Sealed, Congress Faces Tussle For Karnataka Chief Minister Seat

DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah have both been vocal about their aspirations for the top post, raising fears of an unpleasant stand-off within the party if the matter isn’t resolved.

The Congress has this evening called a meeting of its MLAs to deliberate on the tricky issue of who gets the top job after their thumping victory in the Karnataka assembly elections yesterday. In the meeting, which Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar said is scheduled for 6 pm at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bengaluru, the Congress Legislative Party is expected to pass a resolution leaving it to the Congress national president to decide the chief minister pick. Sources said no final decision will be taken today, but views of all MLAs will be ascertained.

DK Shivakumar and former Chief Minister and leader of Opposition in the Assembly Siddaramaiah have both been vocal about their aspirations for the top post, raising fears of an unpleasant stand-off within the party if the matter isn’t resolved. DK Shivakumar has gone with his family and brother, Congress MP from Bangalore Rural DK Suresh, to a temple 120 km away from the state capital.

Supporters of Siddaramaiah have put up a poster outside his residence in Bengaluru, referring to him as “the next CM of Karnataka”.

Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge, who held a joining press conference with the two top state party leaders last evening dedicating the victory to the people of the state and promising to implement welfare schemes promised in the party manifesto, is headed back to Delhi this afternoon to meet Sonia Gandhi. He won’t be present at the big meeting in Bengaluru today.

The scale of Congress victory is a record in terms of both seats and vote share in over 30 years. The party has won 135 seats — 55 more than in 2018 — with a vote share of 42.88 per cent. The closest the Congress came to this score was in 1999 when it won 132 seats and had a vote share of 40.84 per cent.

In 1989, it won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.76 per cent.

The BJP has won 66 seats with a 36 per cent vote share, and HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal-Secular won 19 seats with a vote share of 13.29 per cent.

The Congress exceeded its own expectations — Siddaramaiah had said the party was expecting 120-plus seats.

Murmurs of infighting gained traction yesterday, as DK Shivakumar yesterday reacted strongly to a comment by Mr Siddaramaiah’s son that he should occupy the post again. “The High Command will decide,” said Mr Shivakumar.

Mr Shivakumar, 61, yesterday broke down as he spoke about delivering on a promise to the Gandhis. He also said he had not slept for three years, ever since he made the promise.

“I assured Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge that I will deliver Karnataka. I can’t forget Sonia Gandhi coming to meet me in jail,” said the emotional Congress leader.

On who would be Chief Minister, he said: “The Congress office is our temple. We will decide our next step at the Congress office.”

Unlike Siddaramaiah, Mr Shivakumar has always been a Congressman and has not lost a single election since his first electoral victory in 1989.

Siddaramaiah, 75, has repeatedly said this is his last electoral contest, hoping, perhaps, that the Congress will consider this while making its choice.

For his critics in the Congress, Siddaramaiah is still the “outsider”, an import from another party.

An NDTV survey during the election campaign revealed that Siddaramaiah was the most popular choice for the next Karnataka Chief Minister.

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