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D K Shivakumar: Too useful to too many people

By Aditi Phadnis
September 15, 2019 09:12 IST
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The Congress's master strategist is so incredibly popular and resourceful that even Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa regretted his arrest.
That's the secret of D K Shivakumar's success, says Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Congress leader D K Shivakumar leaves the Enforcement Directorate office before being produced at a special court in New Delhi. Photograph: PTI Photo

Congress leader Doddalahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar has managed, in a state run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, to incite protests in several parts of Karnataka after he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate for alleged money laundering earlier this week.

Ramanagara, Channapatna and the adjoining areas all fall under Shivakumar's assembly constituency, Kanakapura.

A bandh was called and all schools have been closed. Stones were thrown on government buses by (presumably) party workers.

So Shivakumar must be both incredibly popular and highly resourceful to be able to evoke such a response from constituents.

The Congress's master strategist is all that and more -- so much so that even Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa regretted the fact that he had been arrested.

Who is D K Shivakumar?

When he filed his affidavit for the 2018 Karnataka assembly elections, he and his wife declared assets amounting to Rs 730 crore.

He listed his profession as 'social worker'.

He could have written anything: But in south Karnataka (as elsewhere in India), the currency of power is land and caste.

IMAGE: Vokkaliga community members hold posters during a protest against Shivakumar's arrest in Bengaluru. Photograph: Shailendra Bhojak/PTI Photo

Shivakumar is a Vokkaliga, born into an agricultural family from the same area as H D Deve Gowda, the biggest leader of the Vokkaligas in Karnataka.

It was only natural that Deve Gowda should view Shivakumar as a cheeky upstart and for a long time, he did.

Shivakumar has always been in the Congress -- since he joined the Youth Congress when he was in college. He was general secretary of the Youth Congress in the state between 1983 and 1985.

His first electoral victory was to become a member of the zilla panchayat in 1987.

At 25, Shivakumar contested against Deve Gowda for the first time in Sathanur in 1985.

Not unexpectedly, he lost, albeit by a narrow margin. That, in itself, was not a small feat because Deve Gowda was then a senior minister in the Ramakrishna Hegde government.

But Gowda, who had contested from two constituencies, elected to quit Sathanur which Shivakumar contested and won in the by-election and then began a battle with the Deve Gowda family which has changed its look and shape but remained, in essence, exactly what it was: a battle.

Shivakumar contested the 1989 Lok Sabha election from Kanakapura against Deve Gowda and not unexpectedly, lost.

Those were the years when Gowda was at the height of his power. But despite his defeats he began building his influence in the rural areas adjoining Bengaluru.

At around this time, land prices began rising. Shivakumar also invested in mining and allied business.

He contested the 1989 assembly elections as an independent candidate and won.

He became the youngest minister in the state just two years later, at the age of 31, where he served as a minister of state under Chief Minister S Bangarappa from 1991 to 1992.

IMAGE: Shivakumar leaves after being produced at Rouse Avenue Court in New Delhi. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

Then came the government led by S M Krishna. He forged a good relationship with Krishna -- and is alleged to be involved in some of the Café Coffee Day business with Krishna's late son-in-law, V G Siddhartha.

So far, he has been MLA seven times.

Along with his business interests, his political hard work (a bit of coercion and oppression also works) has paid off spectacularly.

Shivakumar has used personal wealth to earn political capital. These stories are well known.

The 2002 episode when Maharashtra chief minister and Congress leader, the late Vilasrao Deshmukh, had all but lost the government in a no-confidence motion, it was Shivakumar, urban development minister in Karnataka at the time, who corralled MLAs and lodged them at the Eagleton Resort (whose walls, if they could speak, would yield many secrets) and led them to Mumbai on the day of the vote.

Ahmad Patel won his Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat on the strength of the efforts put in by Shivakumar to keep 44 MLAs from Gujarat 'safe'.

Later still, he used his business relationships in Hyderabad to ferry MLAs from Bengaluru to a Hyderabad resort, asking Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for nothing more than that they be kept safe and secure.

That's how Yediyurappa, despite having 104 MLAs out of 224 and being the single largest party in the assembly, was forced to yield space to H D Kumaraswamy and the Congress.

In this operation, Shivakumar beat Amit Shah at the game.

The Deve Gowda clan and Shivakumar have never really been friends, only tactical partners.

Unlike many others in the Congress, Shivakumar was someone Kumaraswamy thought he could do business with.

Hence the loud laments from the Janata Dal-Secular about the misuse of investigative agencies when Shivakumar was arrested.

What happens now?

It is tempting to conclude that Shivakumar's career in politics is over. But he's too useful to too many people.

That's where his talent lies.

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
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