A new third front seeking a larger role and leadership position in Karnataka Congress is quietly taking shape in the midst of intermittent sparring between supporters of former chief minister Siddaramaiah and state president DK Shivakumar.
The group of three, or G3, comprising former union minister KH Muniyappa, former deputy CM G Parameshwara and old Congress warhorse BK Hariprasad have joined hands to moot an alternative strategy to challenge the BJP in 2023 Karnataka assembly polls.
Contrary to demands by a section of MLAs to name the chief ministerial candidate for 2023 assembly polls, this group has suggested that leadership issues be taken up only after the elections. “Our main task is to defeat the BJP. Who should be CM has to be decided later by the high command and legislature party after the elections,” Muniyappa, who was in Delhi this week, told India Ahead. “For the moment, we should work together and remain united,” he added.
Earlier this month, MLAs seen to be close to Siddaramaiah had demanded that the former CM be projected as the party’s face. This had drawn a sharp response from the DK Shivakumar camp with KPCC President issuing a warning to legislators making public statements on leadership issues.
Muniyappa, Parameshwara and Hariprasad met in Bengaluru earlier this week. And the coming together of the three was seen as a step towards the formation of an alternative ginger group within the party and state politics.
Karnataka has never had a Dalit chief minister. The leadership in all major parties – BJP, Congress and erstwhile Janata Parivar and its current off-shoots – has rotated among intermediary and upper caste groups.
Muniyappa, a Dalit, has been a seven-time Lok Sabha MP from Kolar. He lost the last elections in a three-cornered contest. Parameshwara, on the other hand, has been KPCC President. He was later made deputy chief minister in HD Kumaraswamy-led Congress-JD(S) alliance government.
Parameshwara came close to becoming the CM in 2013 when the Congress won assembly polls when he was the KPCC chief. He, however, lost his own seat, paving the way for the nomination of Siddaramaiah as the chief minister.
Mallikarjun Kharge, Muniyappa and Parameshwara form the triumvirate of Dalit leadership in the Congress party. Kharge, however, has moved to national politics after being named Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
The demand for a Dalit CM in Karnataka is also triggered by a caste census conducted during Siddaramaiah’s regime. The data was not made public, but reports suggest Dalits with close to 20% population form the single-largest voting-block in the state. They are closely followed by Muslims with 16% population.
According this caste enumeration, Vokkaliga and Lingayat constitute 14% and 11% of the population, respectively. Around 20% of the population belongs to other backward castes or OBCs. Of this, Kurubas are numerically the biggest caste group, comprising 7% of the state’s population.