Should Siddaramaiah be worried that the tallest leader of the Congress, SM Krishna, has retired hurt and left the batting crease? Yes and No.
It is obvious that the Karnataka chief minister is one of the main reasons for Krishna to call it a day. The veteran leader is irked and he makes no bones about it. He says the Congress, with which he had a 46-year-old relationship, does not need mass leaders who have a connect with people, but mere managers. In effect, Krishna in a parting shot, bowled a beamer at Siddaramaiah by labelling him a mere manager.
In effect, Krishna in a parting shot, bowled a beamer at Siddaramaiah by labelling him a mere manager.
What happened that provoked Krishna to hit out? For long, he has felt that he was treated shabbily within the Congress party, having been dropped unceremoniously as foreign minister in 2012. Sources say that his terse resignation letter is not the first letter he has written to Sonia Gandhi and that he reached out to them several times in 2015 and 2016, giving his assessment of the situation in Karnataka.
In those notes and letters, he made it clear that the party was not vibrant and the Siddaramaiah regime was seen as anti-people. He wrote that he was expressing his apprehensions and wanted something to be done to halt the deteriorating situation for the Congress in Karnataka, the only big state the party is ruling. Krishna in his letters, is also reported to have denied he was angry and said that he is too senior to be sidelined.
It is not known what response Krishna got to his letters but the one change that took place was in September when Siddaramaiah sought Krishna's counsel over the Cauvery dispute. Krishna during his tenure as CM in 1999-2004 had seen a similar flashpoint over Cauvery with Tamil Nadu.
But Krishna is not talking of a retirement yet. He says politicians don't retire, they just fade away. But given that his resignation comes a year ahead of the Karnataka assembly elections, it provides the BJP with ammunition to target the ruling party with.
But Krishna is not talking of a retirement yet. He says politicians don't retire, they just fade away.
The BJP camp is projecting Krishna's goodbye to the Congress as proof that even the party's senior-most leader does not want to stick with it any more. Though there is no confirmation whether Krishna will do an ND Tiwari and be BJP-bound, his departure from the Congress will be milked by the saffron party that is keen to make a comeback to its gateway to south India.
The BJP will look to see how it can gain from his public expression of disillusionment. Can Krishna shift his Vokkaliga vote to the BJP in the old Mysuru belt? Can he nudge the Bengaluru urban crowd with its 28 seats to back the BJP, given that he played a part in putting the city on the world map? Or perhaps even if he is not able to get traditional Congress voters to plump for BJP, can he at least help make the Congress lose?
The BJP knows perception matters in politics. Krishna's exit will be the second of a senior leader in less than a year. Dalit leader Srinivas Prasad has already joined hands with the BJP. And both have issues with the leadership in Karnataka. This will help the BJP mount an anti-Siddaramaiah specific political attack even if it reveals the party's desperation to use ammunition from old-timers from the Congress. And it will be tough for Congress leaders to return in kind given that many are his proteges in politics.
But it is be a surprise if Krishna joins the BJP given that the party will have nothing much to offer him except maybe a gubernatorial posting. Not that Krishna has not seen a Raj Bhavan before. He served as Governor of Maharashtra between 2004 and 2008.
All this is presuming that Krishna at 84 will still be a factor in Karnataka's electoral politics. On the face of it, Krishna is a spent force, someone who should have ideally been part of the Karnataka Congress party's margdarshak mandal. Though a Vokkaliga, Krishna is not cut of the same cloth as HD Deve Gowda is.
Though Gowda is just a year younger to Krishna, he in recent months has been quite active, even attending the all-party meeting on Cauvery at Siddaramaiah's insistence. Gowda is also seen as a mass leader, unlike Krishna who thanks to his IT-savvy image that he developed during his tenure as CM, was seen as a city leader. And having been out of touch with the micro-details of state politics, Krishna's exit is not seen as much of a loss.
Even in the Mysuru-Mandya belt, Krishna's clout would be doubtful. After all, in 2004, he chose to contest from Chamrajpet in Bengaluru rather than from Maddur in Mandya district, the seat he won in 1999.
But all the pluses and minuses apart, ahead of the Mahabharata in Karnataka, the BJP would be more than happy to keep Krishna away its political rival.