What will the Congress high command do with former minister MB Patil, who is upset over not becoming minister again? Will he be asked to toe the party line or just ignore him for now or entertain his demands? Going by the present developments, it looks the party would make use of his presence for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress lacks a Lingayat leader who can take on the aggressive BJP State President BS Yeddyurappa, still the face of Lingayats in Karnataka.
No doubt, Patil has retained his MLA seat with an impressive margin of about 30,000 votes in Babaleshwar. However, he has miserably failed in his efforts to lure away Lingayats from the BJP or to be precise, BS Yeddyurappa.
Patil was no doubt instrumental in making his mentor Siddaramaiah believe that it is possible to get dividends for the party over the Lingayat religion issue. But his community did not respond positively to this splitting exercise. At least he is lucky enough to become MLA. But his associates - former ministers Basavarajraya Reddy and Dr Sharan Prakash Patil, Eshwar Khandre, Vinay Kulkarni among others - lost the poll battle.
While the Congress has just 17 Veerashaiva-Lingayat MLAs, the BJP has about 38 and the JD(S), 4. The Congress had 28 in the previous assembly. In Northern Karnataka, where this socially, economically and politically powerful community has a significant presence, the Congress could just get 41 seats out of the 104. The Congress has accommodated Shivananda Patil and Rajashekar Patil Humnabad, both Panchamashali Lingayats, as ministers. They had maintained safe distance from the Veerashaiva-Lingayat controversy. These facts are history now.
Cut to the present: is Patil right in demanding a ministerial berth/deputy chief minister post despite his poor performance as a leader who ventured into the division of Veerashaiva-Lingayats? Why not? When former chief minister Siddaramaiah is not made accountable to the debacle of the party, why should Patil be punished?
Was it not Siddaramaiah who entertained Patil & Co to work overtime to consolidate the support for the Lingayat religion movement? If Patil has to be kept out of power, then why is the party considerate towards the former chief minister? Siddaramaiah is now heading a committee which is tasked with coordination between the coalition partners – the Congress and the JD(S). He has also been allotted a well-furnished room on the first floor of Vidhana Soudha to hold meetings.
One reason not to sideline Siddaramaiah is that his community people, Kurubas, have stood by him this time too. Among a dozen Kuruba MLAs, 8 belonged to the Congress, 3 less than last time. Two of the MLAs have made it to the Cabinet, one each from the coalition partners. The Congress is in no mood to lose Siddaramaiah when it is in need of leaders who can slog for the LS elections, 2019. There are 2 ministers who belonged to this community in the present cabinet. But what Kurubas want is the ST tag and not fringe benefits such as ministerial posts, according to Mukudappa, a Kuruba leader and founder president of Ahinda.
M B Patil, an affluent Lingayat Kudu Vokkaliga, is not as lucky as Siddaramaiah. He had no hesitation to confess that he had 'invested' a lot for the assembly polls. Today, Veerashaiva-Lingayats leaders in the Congress have turned mute over the minority status.
At present, not many are openly supporting Patil who is demanding a position. This is obvious with the coalition government going ahead with the allocation of portfolios on the very day Patil raised a hue and cry in Bengaluru over the denial of ministerial berth. Kumaraswamy himself went up to Patil's bunglow in Sadashivnagar to pacify him.
The aggrieved Lingayat leader insists that not less than 15-20 MLAs are with him to take up the 'injustice' issue. Satish Jarakiholi, Parameshwara Naik, NA Haris, HM Revanna, R Roshan Baig, Tanvir Sait among many are a disappointed lot for not becoming ministers. But there are no signs to say that Patil has emerged as a rallying point for these and more MLAs. Patil's meeting with AICC President Rahul Gandhi in Delhi has not yet ensured any position for him.
The Congress doesn't seem to be in a mood to lose Patil at this point because it needs the support of Veerashaiva-Lingayats to win maximum LS seats. There are rumours that the party kept him out of the cabinet on the suggestion of the JD (S) to distance the coalition government from the controversial Lingayat religion issue.
But for the Congress, it is not that easy to handle the tantrums of Patil or even other MLAs. If the JD (S) is firm on not having any of those who were identified with the Lingayat religion movement, then the Congress would have to find a way to placate Patil. Either the Congress would have to firmly say that it would have to accommodate him as DCM/minister or make him the president of the KPCC. If the latter becomes the choice, then it would have to find a place for Dinesh Gundu Rao, who is nurturing hopes of becoming the president. The party is yet to fill the post.
The Congress, if it opts to be shrewd, would have to in a subtle way thwart any possible formation of dissent group with Patil as a rallying point. Interestingly, Shivananda Patil, soon after becoming minister, thanked Siddaramaiah for supporting him to become minister.
It is said that Jarkiholi, a known supporter of Siddaramaiah, is eyeing for the KPCC president post. At present he is AICC secretary and he is threatening to quit the post. Though he belongs to the Valmiki community (ST), he is not considered as a powerful leader of the community across Karnataka. It is to be seen whether the high command would allow Siddaramaiah to have his men in key posts and thus indirectly control the party.
Dinesh Gundu Rao, who is also out of the cabinet, has been trying to placate the disgruntled MLAs by saying after two years the present set of Congress ministers would be making way for new faces. It is difficult to believe because it is not easy to make seniors such as G Parameshwara, R V Deshpande, D K Shivakumar, K J George, Zameer Ahmed or any other except a few to step down.
Patil is no mood to reconcile to the fact that Veerashaiva-Lingayats did not support his efforts. On June 9, Jagatika Lingayat Mahasabha issued a whole lot of statistics in the form of an advertisement in newspapers, to argue that the Congress did not suffer poll losses due to the religion issue.
The Mahasabha, which had the blessings of Patil & Team, has argued that the Congress could not do well because it had to face the combined BJP unlike in 2013, besides facing the aggressive campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has also said that the demand for minority status to Lingayats would continue as it had nothing to do with the assembly polls. A section of the media has reported that the NDA government has set aside the demand for the minority status.
Surprisingly, post-2018 elections, none of the Congress leaders who were 'crusaders' for the Lingayat religion are discussing the issue. Even Patil is mute in this regard. Will he be able to pursue vigorously the religion issue as DCM/minister/KPCC head/MLA? It is a tough task as the efforts would neither have the Congress high command support or the community support.
The high command is in a precarious position not just because of Patil but because of disgruntled 15 to 20 MLAs. The more dissent in the Congress, the more chances for the BJP to reach its end goal – get back to power. The Congress, which has surrendered already to the JD(S), now has to yield to its MLAs who have the potential to shake the stability of the coalition government.