Big Karnataka win raises Congress party’s hopes - GulfToday

Big Karnataka win raises Congress party’s hopes

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

The Congress party is all set to come back to power in the southern state of Karnataka after imposing a crushing defeat on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Assembly elections last week.

The first spectacular electoral victory in a long time showed that the grand old party, which the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had beaten down to the second place, still retains the ability to bounce back.

The Congress victory was authoritative. It raised its vote share significantly and bagged 135 of the 224 seats in the Assembly. This is the highest tally any party could notch up in more than three decades. There was no big fall in the BJP’s vote share. But its strength in the Assembly dropped to 66.

The Congress party’s gain was primarily at the expense of the Janata Dal (Secular) of former Prime Minister H.D.Deve Gowda, which has shrunk as a family outfit.

The JD (S) entered the poll arena, hoping it could play the role of king-maker or of king himself as pre-poll surveys had indicated the possibility of a hung Assembly. The Congress party’s performance dashed its hopes.

The JD (S) is clearly in the process of fading away, paving the way for a two-party system in the state.

With the loss of Karnataka, the BJP has no hold on power in any southern state. The other states of the region have been quite inhospitable to the party’s Hindutva ideology.

The election outcome was not unexpected. If there was an element of surprise, it was the magnitude of the Congress victory.

The BJP was aware that its government in the state was under a heavy anti-incumbency burden. Accordingly, the party’s central leadership adopted tactics, which it had tried successfully elsewhere. It replaced the unpopular Chief Minister ahead of the election, denied tickets to many sitting members and brought in several new faces to project a new image. The tactics failed miserably.

The exclusion of senior Lingayat leaders, who had brought that powerful community close to the BJP and helped it to come to power, led to a severe adverse reaction. Some prominent leaders of the community walked out of the BJP, and they were warmly welcomed by the Congress.

The outgoing BJP government had taken some steps aimed at polarisation of society on religious lines. For instance, it took away the four per cent reservation the Muslims had in the state, and divided it equally between the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities. This did not yield expected results.

What caused the most damage to the BJP perhaps was the widespread allegation of corruption. The Congress had dubbed it “40 per cent commission government”. Nearly half of the ministers were defeated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned in the state for many days, holding many road shows and rallies. But the Modi magic did not work this time.

Credit for the Congress party’s splendid performance goes primarily to two state party leaders, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah (he uses no initials or surname) and Pradesh Congress President D.K. Shivakumar. They worked together smoothly during the campaign without letting personal ambitions come in the way.

Members of the Nehru-Gandhi family had the good sense not to over-project themselves. There is no doubt that Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India march) made a contribution to the Congress party’s victory. It won 17 of  the 21 constituencies through which he had walked. It is reasonable to assume that he was able to galvanise party workers at the grassroots.

Unfortunately, followers of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar are now fighting over who should be the Chief Minister.

The BJP probably made its own contribution to the Congress party’s big win. Large sections of people appear to view Rahul Ganghi’s disqualification from membership of the Lok Sabha as a vindictive action by the BJP. As a result a wave of sympathy for him and his party is rising.

Karnataka has shattered the myth of Modi’s invincibility. But the Congress and the rest of the opposition must not imagine he is now a pushover. He still has many things in his favour.

The Karnataka election outcome holds many valuable lessons for parties in power as well as those aspiring to power. It is for the BJP, the Congress and all other parties to distil out the lessons that appropriate for them.

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