Opinion: Will Siddaramaiah Give Congress Second Seat Trouble?

The first list of candidates for an election is usually a straightforward exercise where the big stars and incumbent MLAs get their traditional seats. Barring the one big question over which seat former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah will choose, there was little else that was uncertain in Congress's first list of 124 candidates for the 224 seats in the Karnataka assembly.

Interestingly, the declaration of Siddaramaiah as the candidate for the Varuna seat - his family bastion represented by his son in the outgoing assembly and where Siddaramaiah himself won from in 2008 and 2013 - has not entirely ended speculation around whether the Congress Legislature Party chief will eye a second seat for himself.

While the party leadership has been categorical in following the 'one candidate, one seat' principle, it has not announced names for the Badami constituency, which Siddaramaiah currently represents, and Kolar, where he had declared he would contest from. It may be difficult for the party leadership to indulge the leader on a second seat as that would spur a strong pushback from other leaders, especially those who are opposed to Siddaramaiah within the party.

In 2018, he contested from Badami and Chamundeshwari, losing the latter to JD(S) candidate GT Deve Gowda, by a huge margin. This was considered a prestige battle that he lost. Given that the JD(S) still considers him an arch rival, those close to Siddaramiah are wary of different forces working against him in his constituency, and hence the quest for a second seat. But that won't go down well with the rest of the party.

State Congress president DK Shivakumar, who was declared the candidate for his traditional Kanakapura seat, had said the second list of Congress candidates will be announced in "four to five days". Kolar and Badami could be the focus then. The longer they leave the two seats open, the more the speculation.

Apart from Siddaramaiah and Mr Shivakumar, the first list included former ministers Priyank Kharge from Chitapur in Hyderabad; Dinesh Gundurao from Gandhi Nagar and Krishna Byre Gowda from Bayatrayanpura in Bengaluru. Most big-ticket Congress leaders are contesting from their traditional seats. Another key candidate is former union minister and seven-time MP KH Muniappa, from the Devanahalli seat.

There are only eight Congress-held seats for which candidates have not been announced or changed, including Siddaramaiah's Badami and his son's Varuna seat. Candidates have also been declared for nine of the 17 seats which were held by Congress and JD(S) candidates who switched over to the BJP in 2019.

Apart from staying firm on the one seat-one candidate principle, the challenge now for the Congress will be to finalise candidates for the remaining 100 seats; these are closely contested seats and largely those held by the BJP and JD(S) now.

The party will have to balance rival factions in these seats and that is a herculean task. In fact, many observers believe that the results of this closely-fought election will hinge on candidate selection.

Apart from the key candidates, the Congress list is a mix of young and old, castes and the social arithmetic. There are 28 Lingayat candidates, 22 Vokkaliga candidates, 10 SC and 10 ST candidates amongst the 124. There are two father and son pairs and two father-daughter pairs. Forty four candidates are over 60 and 22 are below 50. Only one candidate is below 30.

(TM Veeraraghav is the Executive Editor, BQ Prime.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.