The opposition has dismissed the exit polls as “gossip” and “manufactured”. But the prediction of a dismal performance by the Congress in Karnataka has exposed the fault lines within the party.
Former minister and Shivajinagar MLA R. Roshan Baig—a prominent Muslim face of the Congress party in the state— slammed the party's poll campaign as a "flop show", while dubbing AICC general secretary K.C. Venugopal as a "buffoon" and former chief minister Siddaramaiah as "arrogant". Baig said the "inefficiency" of KPCC chief Dinesh Gundu Rao was responsible for the party's “poor show” in the Lok Sabha elections. However, what is worrying for the party is Baig's appeal to the Muslim community to "compromise" with the situation, if the NDA returns to power.
Embarrassed by the verbal outburst, the Congress has issued a showcause notice to the disgruntled legislator for "lowering the dignity" of the party by making “unparliamentary remarks” against senior leaders.
"If the NDA comes back to power, I humbly appeal to all Muslims to learn to compromise with the situation. Muslims should not remain loyal to one party and must join hands with the BJP. The Congress has sidelined the minorities and see them as vote banks. Let us not become cattle or untouchables. The Congress gave only one ticket to Muslims this time," said Baig.
The minority community leaders of the Congress rushed to defend the party and alleged that Baig was only a "political opportunist" and that he was disgruntled over being denied a cabinet berth and also a ticket to contest from Bengaluru Central in the Lok Sabha polls.
"A senior and experienced leader like Roshan Baig should not have reacted to an exit poll. The party has given Lok Sabha ticket to Rizwan Arshad, nominated Nasir Hussain to Rajya Sabha and has given three cabinet berths to Muslims including Rahim Khan. I don't believe in the exit polls or that the Congress has performed badly," said Rao, adding that Baig's remarks reflected his character.
Wakf minister Zameer Ahmed Khan hit back at Baig saying he was inducted into the cabinet after the internal reports indicated that he was popular among the community. "It was a decision taken by Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah based on the feedback they got. Roshan Baig enjoyed power in the Congress party. He was a minister for long though he had to step down after his name figured in the Telgi stamp paper scam. Today, he finds fault with the party. He must understand one cannot cling to power.
“Baig is not the only Muslim in the party. In fact, the party has made three Muslim ministers— Rahim Khan, U.T. Khader and myself, representing three regions. One must understand there are only 34 cabinet berths and not everyone can be accommodated," said Zameer.
Zameer slammed Baig for asking Muslims to back the BJP. "Baig cannot go to the BJP and Muslims cannot choose to go with the BJP as the BJP has clearly stated that they will not give ticket to Muslims and that they don't need Muslim votes to win elections.”
MLC Rizwan Arshad, who contested the LS polls from Bengaluru Central, warned Baig against "shedding crocodile tears" for minorities. "You (Baig) are cribbing that the Muslims got only one ticket, but did you work for the lone Muslim candidate? You must introspect. I dare you to contest from Shivajinagar on a BJP ticket," said Arshad.
Baig later took to twitter to defend himself and hit back at the party's state leadership. In a series of tweets, he claimed that he had not spoken against the party but against the shortcomings of some state leaders.
“I've received the show-cause notice sent to me by the KPCC. I'm not even going to bother to read it because it's clearly sent by the orders of the same people whose incompetencies were highlighted by me... the portfolios in the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government were "sold" and minorities were ignored. How can I blame (Chief Minister) Kumaraswamy for it? He wasn't allowed to function in this government. From Day 1, Siddaramaiah had said 'I am going to be the CM'. You have gone to their doorstep to form the government," Baig said.
Baig also alleged that all the leaders he spoke against were conveniently using the party machinery at their disposal to make it look like he had spoken against the party.
"The arrogance of these state leaders is immeasurable. These people accuse the opposition of horse-trading without mentioning how they sold ministerial portfolios at exorbitant prices. The incumbent government is being man-handled by the state Congress leaders as well. I brought attention to several instances of murky ongoings with a few leaders of High Command, but they turned a blind eye. I raised my grievances internally before going public," claimed Baig.
He added that there were several senior leaders who were capable of running the party but they were sidelined. He also said he had great regard for his party colleagues like D.K. Shivakumar, Ramalinga Reddy, M.B. Patil and K.J. George and added that they were performing well in their capacity.
"I'm speaking against the incumbent leadership who are degenerating the party by treating leaders like personal ATMs," said Baig, who also alleged that Siddaramaiah's arrogance had cost the party dearly in the assembly elections, too.
"Siddaramaiah tried to divide the Lingayat community and it was unbecoming of a chief minister. He antagonised the Vokkaligas, too, with his arrogance," said Baig.
Interestingly, Baig has found support from unusual quarters—state JD(S) president and Hunsur MLA H. Vishwanath. "Roshan Baig has spoken the truth. I am happy Roshan Baig has realised this at least now. I congratulate Baig on speaking the truth," said Vishwanath, an arch-rival of Siddaramaiah and a fellow Kuruba.
Interestingly, JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda has chosen to remain mum on the issue. BJP leader R. Ashok said Baig had named the two "villains" (Siddaramaiah and Gundu Rao) and a comedian (Venugopal) in the movie trailer. "Congress will retrace its steps into the resort as the coalition will be shaky post May 23. People disillusioned with the Congress and those who are seeking a new path are welcome to the BJP," said Ashok.
Baig, who hailed both the JD(S) and the BJP, while claiming to be a whistle blower to the Congress party, has kept his next political move a secret. But his outburst has sure triggered a debate on the political compulsions of the Muslim community.