Bengaluru, KARNATAKA: As the drama over the arrest of P. Chidambaram played out a few days ago, the Congress closed ranks around its former Union minister, holding press conferences and accusing the BJP of “political vendetta”. This is in marked contrast to the tepid response displayed by the Karnataka state Congress unit as its leader D.K. Shivakumar is being questioned by the Enforcement Directorate over alleged money laundering for the third day on Monday.
While Shivakumar is not a national figure on the lines of Chidambaram, he has a reputation of a trouble-shooter—he was responsible for keeping party MLAs in Maharashtra away from political poachers in 2002, in Gujarat in 2017 and Karnataka in 2018 (which led to B.S. Yediyurappa having to step down as CM in just three days). His supporters did show up at his Bengaluru residence and at the airport on Friday, but no Congress leader was at the scene.
It took a nudge from the Congress high command on Friday for state Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao to hold a press conference accusing the Modi government of using central investigative agencies for its own agenda, while former chief minister and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Siddaramaiah said that the law will take its own course. In a tweet on August 30, he said Shivakumar was being hounded for sheltering the Gujarat Congress MLAs in 2017.
“Shivakumar has financially and politically helped a lot of people in the party during elections. None of them came to see him,” said a close aide of the leader.
Shivakumar, who has never hidden his chief ministerial hopes—recently, he tried aiming for Siddaramaiah’s position as CLP leader—has more enemies inside the Congress than outside. But since he has good relations with both Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, this dislike is not manifested publicly, but by isolating him in times of distress.
There could be another factor behind the cold shoulder given to Shivakumar by his party colleagues. In the last 14 months of the JD(S)-Congress regime, he mended fences with the family of H.D. Deve Gowda, his arch political rival, much to the disapproval of seniors in the party. The newfound political bonhomie was in full display when Shivakumar rushed to Gowda’s house for consultations after receiving the ED summons late on 29 August.
He also received national attention when he rushed to Mumbai to meet the ‘rebel’ Congress-JD(S) MLAs (now disqualified) to try and save the Kumaraswamy government. Photos of him camping outside the hotel gate and getting soaked in the Mumbai rain before being sent back by the police also went viral, causing heartburn within the Karnataka Congress unit.
Who is Shivakumar?
Popularly known as ‘DK’ in political circles, 58 year-old Doddallahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar has been the Congress’s spin doctor in Karnataka for years now. Though he lost his first election to Gowda in 1985, his political career has seen more ups than downs since then. Hailing from a middle-class agriculturist family in Sathanur, 30km from Bengaluru, Shivakumar made a fortune through multiple businesses, including granite mining, real estate and educational institutions. An MLA since 1989, he was one of the richest candidates in the 2018 assembly polls with declared assets of Rs700 crore.
A staunch believer in numerology, Shivakumar’s favourite number is six, which he says is ruled by the planet Venus and attracts power. One of the factors that makes him the natural choice in a crisis is that he rarely betrays any panic.
“When the summons were served to him at 10.40pm to appear before ED in New Delhi the next day, Shivakumar was not perplexed. He calmly went about preparing himself for the next day,” said Vijay Mulgund, an aide.
Congress member Milind Dharmasena said Shivakumar’s resilience stemmed from the many political challenges he has faced.
“His face-offs with the Deve Gowda family, winning the 1994 assembly polls from Sathanur (prior to delimitation of constituencies) as an independent after the Congress denied him the ticket has made him tough. He had to fight the 1994 polls all alone, facing official candidates of the Congress, Janata Dal and BJP,” said Dharmasena.
Shivakumar’s initial public reaction was in keeping with his confrontational attitude.
“I have not raped, murdered or accepted graft, but done business legally. The investigative agencies have sucked me in the last two years and declared my assets as benami. I will explore all legal options to shield myself,″ he told reporters before leaving for New Delhi on Friday.
But on Monday, the strain seemed to be showing. Shivakumar broke down in New Delhi after the ED didn’t let him return home for a day to offer prayers his father and be with his family on Gowri-Ganesh Chaturthi festival.