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Home > News > Report

Dharam Singh: The man in the middle

Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi | August 30, 2004 11:15 IST

From being the eternal bridesmaid, never the bride, Narayansingh Dharam Singh has now become the quintessential man in the middle, torn between loyalty to colleagues in his party on the one hand and the need to stay chief minister on the other, something he knows is possible only if he stays in the good books of Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Deve Gowda.

Actually, Singh should have become chief minister in 1999 when the party chose to install then Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief S M Krishna as chief minister.

Singh had been appointed KPCC chief by former Congress president Sitaram Kesri but after Kesri's removal, Sonia Gandhi had her own ideas about how to run Karnataka.

When it became clear that the party high command preferred Krishna to him, Singh came to terms with the decision and became the Public Works Department (PWD) minister in the Krishna government.

He had been one of Karnataka's most experienced ministers, having handled home, excise, social welfare, urban development and revenue earlier.

The problem started after the assembly elections earlier this year when as chief minister, Krishna led the Congress campaign but could not secure an absolute majority in the assembly.

North Karnataka, which had been suffering neglect for a long time, turned saffron and resoundingly voted for the BJP. Krishna had no choice but to make a deal with H D Deve Gowda, who is a former prime minister. It was only natural that Gowda favour Singh - a Rajput, a caste that is a microscopic minority in Karnataka - as he represented a challenge to nobody.

But Gowda had several scores to settle with the Krishna government, especially the ministers from his Vokkaliga caste. Topping the list was D K Sivakumar, S M Krishna's right-hand man towards the end of his regime.

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To prevent Sivakumar from becoming a minister, Gowda prepared an 800-page file that listed all Sivakumar's 'misdeeds'. Among them were irregularities in the Bangalalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor project and the formation of the Arkavathi layout by the Bangalore Development Authority.

It fell to Singh to balance his loyalty to a party colleague with the insistent demand by an ally without whom the government would collapse and leave the field free for the BJP.

Singh has obviously decided that rather than play out this balancing game, it is better to carve out a political constituency for himself. Hence the resurrection of a case against Uma Bharti that would have the effect of making the minorities gravitate not just towards the Congress but also towards him personally.

In fact, at least two senior Janata Dal (S) leaders advised Singh not to arrest Bharti and hence cause the Hindus to rally behind her. What's more, verbal orders went out to the government lawyers arguing the case to pursue the case and not drop it.

All this indicates that politically Singh is taking on the BJP, Arjun Singh style, in a region that has seen neglect and underdevelopment. Singh himself belongs to Gulbarga in north Karnataka where he began life as a corporator. He knows the politics of riots and is apparently giving minorities a plank.

It is politics of the most dangerous kind and if this is what is compelling Singh, it just shows how much change the chief ministership has wrought in a man who is generally known to by shy and sweet-natured. Singh has erred in his political career on the side of consistency.

He joined the Congress in the 1960s and did not leave it, even when it passed through its most difficult times. Although his mentor was Devaraj Urs who wrote a new chapter in the political history of Karnataka, Singh stayed in the Congress even when Urs broke away.

He has been rewarded for his loyalty but whether he will be forced to make a choice between Gowda and Krishna is still to be seen.

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