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Karnataka: An open letter to Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar

Why was there no place for a youngster or a woman in the cabinet sworn in on May 20? Having received overwhelming support from young people, and reached out massively to women voters, why didn’t these two constituencies not find a pride of place in the starting Congress line-up?

May 24, 2023 / 03:26 PM IST
DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah

Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah (left) and Deputy CM DK Shivakumar.

Dear Messrs Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar,

While I congratulate you for the resounding success of the Congress over the BJP in the assembly elections in Karnataka thanks to the leadership qualities demonstrated by both of you, as a Kannadiga and a voter in Karnataka I am disappointed looking at the Council of Ministers which took oath along with the two of you on May 20.

The eight MLAs who were sworn in along with you both were the same old faces, almost like the cliché, “old wine in a new bottle”. Among the eight, there is no new face, no youngster in the 30s – the youngest in the current cabinet is 44-years-old and a second-time Minister – which means that your Cabinet will be devoid of fresh ideas, new thinking as of now (of the 10 in the Cabinet, 5 are aged above 70 years and 2 above 60).

Of course, I am not saying it is wrong to select older people, nor that older people would not be capable enough to come up with new ideas. But the fresh blood that youngsters infuse is entirely different, especially in this time and age of great challenges and fast-paced changes in all walks of society. This was also an opportunity to show that you both mean business, show to the world that you are open to new ideas.

The Young Find No Takers

Ever since the BJP came into prominence in India, and especially over the last nine years, it has been believed that the youth generally support the BJP, save in some states. Perhaps it was true in the case of younger voters in Karnataka also in the past. But you and your party, this time, have demonstrated that youth do vote for the Congress. You may have seen the CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) survey.

This amply suggests that more youngsters voted for Congress in this election in Karnataka than for the BJP. It also shows the “aspirational voters” are looking at you for action, especially on the employment and education front. There is a need to impress upon them that “you” (the youth) are in our scheme of things.

Youngsters changing their perception of Congress is certainly a whiff of fresh air for the grand old party. The survey says 42 percent of voters in the age group of 18-25 years voted for Congress as against 40 percent for BJP; even more impressively, 46 percent of voters aged between 26-35 years voted for your party as against 33 percent for BJP; and, 41 percent in the age group of 36-45 years voted for Congress compared to 38 percent of BJP.

Clearly, Congress, the flavour of the season, was the favourite of the educated, talented, forward-looking voters of Karnataka. Don’t disappoint them in the cabinet expansion and the future.

No Women Either

Let me come to women now. Not a single woman was part of the eight who took the oath of office on Saturday. I am sure this is not lost on the lakhs of women who voted for your party on May 10.

How come you did not find even one woman fit enough for the swearing in the first phase? You certainly addressed their needs in the “guarantees” you promised and you could have taken that forward by making space for gender sensitivity at the oath-taking. Four women got elected on the Congress ticket this time (even as their total number in the assembly barely touched double digits in a 224-member assembly).

At 49.7 percent, women electors almost equal men in the state, and they outnumbered men in 50 percent of seats in the assembly (112 out of 224). Their turnout also was impressive at 72.3 percent. Despite such high women’s participation in the electoral process, they have been let down in elected representation, both in your legislative and ministerial contingent.

Overall, having decades of experience in politics, you both would agree with me that it is not just important to show concern, it is equally important to demonstrate it. Both of you could have shown it by accommodating these two sections in the first tranche of ministers. After all, what was so sacrosanct about inducting eight leaders as ministers, you could have as well increased it to 10 by including a youngster and a woman?

BS Arun is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

BS Arun is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication