The Congress victory in the Karnataka assembly polls could offer a new success template to the grand old party for its upcoming electoral battles, especially the Lok Sabha polls in 2024. The Congress, which won 135 of 224 seats in Karnataka, enhanced its vote share from 38.1 per cent in 2018 to 43.2 per cent this time. An extrapolation of the vote share and the seats indicates that the party has a good chance of increasing its Lok Sabha tally in Karnataka from one to 18. However, both the Congress and the BJP know that voters behave differently in the state and national elections.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has set a target of 20 plus seats (of 28) in the Lok Sabha polls. “The people of Karnataka have given us a huge majority and we must meet their expectations and give good governance. Winning at least 20 seats in the Lok Sabha polls will be our gift to Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and senior leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi,” said Siddaramaiah. In 2019, the Congress won only Bengaluru Rural, where D.K. Suresh, younger brother of Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar, emerged successful.
Siddaramaiah has asked his ministers to be accessible to all in their respective districts. A big challenge, however, will be to deliver the five ambitious guarantees which will have huge financial implications. “The party has a big responsibility to deliver the five promises. It will be implemented meticulously,” said Congress leader V.R. Sudarshan. “We are gearing up for local bodies elections and, of course, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) elections, which have been deferred for more than two years. Those elections are crucial, too, as they help us feel the pulse of the people ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.”
The BJP contends that the assembly results would have no impact on the Lok Sabha elections as Karnataka has always voted differently in the two elections. Said BJP MLC N. Ravikumar, “In 2018, we won only 104 seats in the assembly polls. But within a year, we won 25 Lok Sabha seats, with leads in 177 assembly segments. The Congress should worry about its prime ministerial candidate for the 2024 polls.”
A closer look at the factors that clicked for the Congress in the assembly polls reveals that the strong local leadership of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar had a big impact. The warring leaders put up a united front despite their differences. The resurrection of the cadres under Shivakumar’s leadership and the multiple yatras, including the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi, saw an energised cadre and a vibrant local leadership, while the BJP lacked both. The saffron party, which was battling anti-incumbency, relied heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charm. The hindutva plank found acceptance only in the coastal Karnataka region, as the Congress’s guarantee schemes had a ripple effect, even in the BJP bastions.
The Karnataka success has been a major morale booster for the Congress, which hopes to be the nucleus of the united opposition to take on the Modi-Shah juggernaut in the 2024 polls. The party has already given credit to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership by acknowledging that it won a majority of seats along the Bharat Jodo Yatra route.
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The power tussle between senior Congress leaders in poll-bound states like Rajasthan could, however, be a spoiler. But the party can take a leaf out of its Karnataka playbook where both chief ministerial aspirants maintained a truce till the elections were over. Congress legislative party leader Siddaramaiah was made chief minister while state Congress chief Shivakumar got the deputy chief minister’s post. The party has now evolved a power-sharing formula going further beyond the allocation of cabinet berths.
The powerful combine of Siddaramaiah, a Kuruba (OBC) leader, Vokkaliga strongman Shivakumar and dalit leader Kharge has helped the Congress consolidate the dalit, OBC and minority votes, and also win over a section of the Lingayats. The Old Mysuru bastion of the JD(S) saw the Vokkaliga votes shift to Congress as the community hoped to see Shivakumar, a fellow Vokkaliga, become chief minister.
The BJP, which lacked a strong local face to lead its poll campaign, blamed the minor shift in the Lingayat votes on its decision to replace B.S. Yediyurappa as chief minister and to deny tickets to former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi. The party believes that the last-minute rejig of the reservation policy, especially the internal quota within the Scheduled Castes, was another error. It alienated groups like the Bhovis and the Banjaras, who used to corner the benefits in the past, and they turned against the BJP.
With Lok Sabha elections coming up in less than a year, the task is cut out for the key players in Karnataka.