Bengaluru, May 16: The Congress's cautious approach to resolving the 'DK Shivakumar or Siddaramaiah' conundrum in Karnataka has triggered a side-effect -- new claims from different caste groups for the chief minister post.
The All India Veershaiva Mahasabha, which represents the influential Lingayat community, has bid for the top post, citing that 34 of the newly elected Congress MLAs are Lingayats. The swing of the Lingayat vote, once a key support base of the BJP, has been identified as a key factor in the Congress win this time.
Another claim has come in from the Dalit community. Supporters of veteran Congress leader G Parameshwara held a demonstration, demanding that the Dalit leader be chosen for the Chief Minister post. At the gathering in Tumkur, placards reading "a Dalit should be CM" were waved.
In a letter addressed to Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha has said that the Congress had fielded 46 candidates from the community and 34 of them won.
The organisation has key Lingayat leaders among its members. Its president is 91-year-old Shamanuru Shivashankarappa, Karnataka's oldest MLA who won from Davangere South this time.
"Further more, we wish to bring to your kind notice that our community has played a major role in electing other smaller communities in other 50 constituencies. This shows that the traditional voters of the BJP has shifted its loyalty to Congress party, thereby supporting the Congress party to win 134 constituencies in the state," the letter adds.
The community, which accounts for 17 per cent of Karnataka's population, can potentially swing outcomes in nearly 100 seats. It is the community's electoral significance that saw all parties vie for its support and promote Lingayat leaders in the run-up to the polls.
The organisation has further suggested that it is important that the Congress retains the support of the community for the general election due next year.
"Considering the above facts, we now urge the Congress party to give a chance/consider (a) Veerashaiva Lingayat community leader for the post of Chief Minister of Karnataka state," the letter states.
The organisation has also requested the Congress chief to ensure a number of cabinet berths for the community "which is proportionate to the number of MLAs of our community".
The demand for the Chief Minister post, however, seems more like a pressure building tactic as the two tallest Congress leaders in Karnataka are in running for the job and no third name has been come up in discussions so far.
Once a key support base of the BJP, the Lingayats backed the Congress this time, results in the seats dominated by the community have indicated.
Former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, who switched from the BJP to the Congress days before polls, said that the Lingayats support the Congress this time.
A key factor behind the Lingayat swing could be the removal of BS Yediyurappa, BJP veteran and tallest Lingayat leader in Karnataka, as chief minister over corruption charges. While the BJP replaced him with Basavaraj Bommai, another Lingayat leader, the results indicate it did not help the party's poll prospects. Even the last minute move to scrap 4% reservation to Muslims and its reallocation among Lingayats and Vokkaliga did not not work in the BJP's favour.
The seeds of Congress' current dilemma over the choice of a chief minister were, in fact, sown during their poll campaign. To take on the BJP's formidable election machinery, the party avoided projecting a single leader as the face of its campaign. Instead, it projected the trio of Mr Shivakumar, Mr Siddaramaiah and its national chief Mr Kharge as leading its Karnataka push.
While Mr Shivakumar belongs to the influential Vokkaliga community, which dominates southern Karnataka, Mr Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba, a backward caste group that has sizeable presence in central and northern Karnataka. With the Dalit roots of its national president Kharge, Congress got a panel of leaders that appealed, in total, to a huge chunk of Karnataka's population.
While this hugely benefited the Congress campaign and paved the way for its victory, the competing claims for the top job are now proving to be a hurdle in its decision-making.