S.M. Krishna quit as external affairs minister ostensibly because the Congress wants the services of its tallest leader in Karnataka to recapture power in the state in the assembly polls, due early next year.
A grand plan, no doubt.
If Krishna, who has been replaced by Salman Khurshid as India’s foreign minister, returns to active state politics, it will be the second time in just over four years that he has moved from centre to state.
After being chief minister for five years from 1999, the party was defeated in the 2004 polls; in December that year, he was made Maharashtra governor.
In March 2008 he quit as governor to return to state politics, and actively campaigned for the Congress in the assembly polls of May that year. The Congress did not gain much, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power for the first time in the state.
There was much hype, though, in 2008 when Krishna re-entered Karnataka politics as he was leaving mostly an honorary post of governor, usually reserved for either ageing leaders or trouble-makers for the ruling party at New Delhi.
This time, however, if he returns to Karnataka, he will be returning after losing one of the most important portfolios in the union government.
Krishna was the first external affairs minister from Karnataka; the most important central ministry held by leaders from the state in the past had been railways.
Krishna is no doubt the tallest Congress leader in the state, and he has a reputation for bringing all sections of the party together.
However, at 80 years, age is no longer on his side.
Worse, the party is bitterly divided on caste lines with a powerful group of Lingayat community leaders openly campaigning to remove the present Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief G. Parameshwara.
Parameshwara is a Dalit but known to be a staunch follower of Krishna, who belongs to the Vokkaliga community.
Lingayats, who comprise about 17 percent of the state’s 65 million population, and Vokkaligas, around 15 percent of the population, have dominated state politics for decades.
It is generally believed that Lingayats, once strong Congress supporters, have switched allegiance to the BJP after Veerendra Patil was unceremoniously sacked as chief minister by the Congress in 1989.
The Lingayat campaign for the replacement of Parameshwara as state party chief continues, despite a diktat from party president Sonia Gandhi, during her two visits to the state in the last six months, that party organisation should not suffer because of differences among leaders.
Krishna, meanwhile, has also lost much clout in his home district of Mandya, about 80 km from Bangalore, over the years.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, the Janata Dal-Secular led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who also belongs to the Vokkaliga community, captured the Mandya seat, defeating popular Kannada actor M.H. Ambareesh, who too is from the same community.
Unlike in 2008, Krishna is now dogged by allegations of serious lapses in granting iron ore mining leases.
More trouble was in store for him and the Congress.
Just a day before he quit the ministry, the Lokayukta (ombudsman) court in Bangalore ordered a probe into his role in the alleged grant of excess land to the 111 km Bangalore-Mysore highway corridor with five township and several commercial projects; the grant was made at a time when Krishna was chief minister.
Given this backdrop, the age factor and the lukewarm response he would get from some sections in the state Congress, Krishna can at best play a minimal role, despite the grand things his party might say.
Though the BJP faces a possible split ahead of the polls, as its former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa plans to launch a new party in December, the Congress in the state and at the national level are in no shape to take advantage of the situation.
A distinct possibility staring the state in the face is of a split verdict and a messy coalition, continuing the political instability witnessed since 2004.