Newsmaker | JD(S) to Congress and back again, Ibrahim says, ‘My high command is now accessible to me’

Despite often complaining in the past of being relegated to the role of a “corner deity” in the Janata Dal (Secular) party of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda and his family, former civil aviation minister C M Ibrahim returned to the JD(S) from the Congress on April 17.

Ibrahim, 73, was offered the post of state party president of the JD(S) by his former mentor Deve Gowda and his son H D Kumaraswamy, along with the responsibility of instilling new vigour in the party in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly polls in Karnataka.

After a nearly 14-year tenure in the Congress the final straw for Ibrahim was a high command decision in January 2022 to overlook him and his seniority while picking a new leader for the party in the Karnataka legislative council. The Congress instead opted for the backward class leader B K Hariprasad, a former Rajya Sabha MP, who is known to share a good rapport with the party top brass. Soon after Hariprasad was picked to lead the Congress in the Upper House in January, Ibrahim announced his exit from the party.

Among the reasons cited by Ibrahim for his exit from the Congress (apart from the slight of being overlooked for the leadership post in the Council) was an inability to communicate with the Congress high command.

“My high command is now accessible to me right here in Bengaluru. I can talk to my leader Deve Gowda any time I want or to Kumaraswamy whenever I want. There is no need to wait endlessly and rely on others to meet my party leadership,” Ibrahim said at one of his press interactions after deciding to accept the JD(S) offer to return to the party.

Having hopped between the Congress and the JD(S) several times since he first became a Janata Party MLA in 1978 in the city of Bengaluru, Ibrahim has first-hand knowledge of the workings of the Janata parties and the Congress.

Despite being an MLA at age 30, electoral success subsequently eluded Ibrahim – both as Janata Dal and Congress candidate – and he has been dependent on the Upper Houses of Parliament and the legislature to stay relevant in politics.

Ibrahim was a member of the Rajya Sabha when he was Union minister for civil aviation in the United Front government at the Centre.

In 2008, he quit the JD(S) to join the Congress and soon after, was instrumental in facilitating the entry of JD(S) leader Siddaramaiah into the party.

Talking about the reasons for his exit from the Congress, Ibrahim blamed Siddaramaiah’s allegedly shrunken stature in the party since the ascendancy of D K Shivakumar as the party chief in 2020. However, he also suggested in January that he had been let down by Siddaramaiah over the legislative council post. “Siddaramaiah has given me a gift. He has delivered it through the Congress party. I have accepted it happily,” Ibrahim said sarcastically, referring to the denial of the post.

Congress insiders say Ibrahim had been provided the best of privileges in the Congress. “Ibrahim has had a favorable time under Siddaramaiah’s leadership. He was given a party ticket to contest from Bhadravati in 2013 though he lost the polls. Despite that, he was initially made deputy chairman of the state planning board – a Cabinet-rank post. He was later chosen to be a member of the legislative council by the party,” said a close associate of the former chief minister Siddaramaiah.

The Siddaramaiah faction, in fact, tried to convince Ibrahim to remain in the Congress till the end, sending businessman MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan to cajole Ibrahim against leaving.

Congress leaders point out that Ibrahim had sensed that his prominence as the Muslim face of the party had diminished with the emergence of new leaders.

“Whenever I have raised some basic questions regarding the functioning and development of the party, I have not received a proper response. (Despite) being a senior leader in the party, I could not speak to you directly and place the facts before you, but had to be routed through the in-charge general secretaries. It is well-known to you how they respond which I do not want to elaborate. Anyhow, I tender my resignation from the primary membership of the party with immediate effect,” Ibrahim said in his resignation letter addressed to Congress president Sonia Gandhi a month ago.

“The Congress party is under the illusion that it will come to power in the state in 2023. We will see what happens,” he had stated to the media in January while announcing plans to leave the Congress. 

“Ibrahim has always had brotherly ties with the family of Deve Gowda. In the middle, he left us due to minor differences but his heart was always with us. He has never been disrespectful,” JD(S)’s Kumaraswamy said on March 31 when Ibrahim quit as a Congress member of the state legislative council.

Sources said Ibrahim quit only after he was guaranteed the position of JD(S) state president. “There were concerns in the JD(S) that making Ibrahim the state president would mean removal of H K Kumaraswamy, a Scheduled Caste community member from the post,” sources said. In the end, on April 17, H K Kumaraswamy, who resigned as party president, was appointed chairman of the JD(S) parliamentary board. “You have got a more important post than me,” Ibrahim quipped on Sunday.

With a glib-talking Ibrahim at the helm, the JD(S) is attempting to position itself as an alternative to the Congress for the Muslim community.

Ibrahim joined the JD(S) only after Kumaraswamy strongly attacked the Karnataka BJP government’s anti-minority policies, including CM Basavaraj Bommai’s alleged silence on efforts to bar Muslim vendors at temple festivals and efforts by Hindutva groups to boycott Muslim meat and mango vendors.

“We have to bring many people to the party. We have to have a large heart. Only if our minds are open will there be growth in the party. There is also a need for discipline,” Ibrahim said after taking over. “Let the month of May pass and there will be fresh monsoon showers in the JD(S) in June,” he said, hinting that many Janata Parivar leaders feeling beleaguered in the Congress and BJP may join the JD(S) as the 2023 poll approaches.

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