Ball back in Cong's court as Karnataka sacks BJP

Karnataka election and congress
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with senior party leaders Siddaramaiah, D.K. Shivakumar and K.C. Venugopal during celebrations after the party's win in Karnataka Assembly elections, in Bengaluru

New Delhi:The Congress victory in Karnataka, its first big state since 2018, puts the party back in the game for general elections as it re-establishes primacy in the opposition space that is currently vastly fragmented despite efforts to cobble up a united front against the BJP.

The Congress emerged victorious in the 224-member assembly polls by winning 135 seats, the Election Commission of India said. According to EC website, the BJP bagged 65 and JD(S) - 19 seats.

Two independent candidates also won in the election. Apart from it, Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha and Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha won one seat each.

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Meanwhile, the results of Jayanagar constituency in Bengaluru are still pending after the Election Commission ordered recounting of postal ballots where Congress candidate Sowmya Reddy has a slender lead over BJP's C K Ramamurthy.

Congress leader Siddaramaiah reacts during a press conference as the party leads in Assembly polls on the vote counting day, in Mysuru, Saturday, May 13, 2023. Photo: PTI

In the outgoing Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress at 69, JD(S) 29, BSP one, independents two, speaker one and vacant six (following deaths and resignations to join other parties ahead of the polls).

Though some exit polls predicted hung assembly in the southern state, Congress has made a strong comeback to the politics by winning absolute majority in the elections held on May 10.

The party wresting Karnataka, the only state ruled by the BJP in southern India, has provided the much-needed boost ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election while also underscoring the importance of giving precedence to regional leadership as the Congress seeks to reclaim its political turf.

Hyper-localised campaign 
The Karnataka strategy of hyper-localised campaign, a bold gambit of a proposed Bajrang Dal ban, five guarantees of doles, and deft handling of caste and class combinations and issues, could serve as a template to counter the hitherto successful blend of BJP's "welfare outreach" and Hindutva politics.

The Congress' efforts to connect with the masses with Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra - the party won over 15 of the 20-plus assembly seats from where the yatra passed - and the year-long campaign on the issue of corruption also played an important role in wooing voters as its vote share increased by over five per cent.

The template, if perfected, would hold the Congress in good stead later this year when it fights key elections in Telangana and Madhya Pradesh as also in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, where it is in power.

The party on Saturday projected the win as the victory of "poor over rich" - seen as an attempt to reshape the political narrative to take on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who has been unrelenting in his attack on the BJP over the alleged "divisive" agenda", said it was a victory of love over hate and that it will be replicated in other states.

He said he was happy that the party ran a positive campaign against BJP's polarisation efforts.

Congress supporters celebrate the party's good show in Karnataka Assembly polls at the AICC headquarters, in New Delhi, Saturday, May 13, 2023. Photo: PTI

With the party getting a comfortable majority in the southern state, Gandhi said "nafrat ka bazaar" has closed down and "mohabbat ki dukaanein" have opened in the state.

Resurrection of the party
The Karnataka sweep, which comes close on the heels of Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from Lok Sabha and withdrawal of his government accommodation, also signals sympathy for the Congress, with the BJP's charge that Gandhi was anti-OBC, having made "defamatory remarks against all Modis", failing to stick.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has said that this win will help in the Congress resurrection at the national level and has given the much-needed "booster dose" to the party.

"It is a decisive victory for the Congress, but we have a long way to go as many assembly elections are there. It is bound to have an effect in state elections," he said.

KPCC President D K Shivakumar with brother D K Suresh shows victory after party's decisive lead, in Bengaluru, Saturday, May 13, 2023. Photo: PTI

Party leaders hope that the cycle of electoral defeats for the grand old party has come to an end and the victory will herald the reversal of this trend which had almost decimated the party, which ruled in only two states on it own before the Himachal victory.

"The favourite pastimes of the liberals, right wingers and the media is to write obituaries of the Congress, but they will always prove premature," Ramesh said.

A party leader said the win proves that PM Modi-led BJP is not invincible and can be defeated if fought positively with strategy.

Congress leaders and supporters celebrate the party's decisive lead in the Karnataka Assembly polls, at the party office in Patna, Saturday, May 13, 2023. Photo: PTI

The party's decision to give precedence to local leadership worked both in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, though not in Gujarat, and it has rightly credited the people of Karnataka for this win.

The politics of freebies and doles has also worked for the opposition party in both states. This may force the BJP to revisit its opposition to such measures.

The unity among the local leadership and effective reach-out to the masses helped the grand old party regain the trust of the people.

Influence of Bharat Jodo yatra
The success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra that passed the state during October helped in activating the party's rank and file. "The Bharat Jodo Yatra infused a new 'Sanjeevani' into the Congress party," Ramesh noted.

Congress workers celebrate at the party office after the party's decisive lead in the Karnataka Assembly elections, in Lucknow, May 13, 2023. Photo: PTI

The inclusion of issues like banning outfits like Bajrang Dal in the party manifesto and the promise to restore four per cent reservation for Muslims helped in the consolidation of the minority votebank in the state, party leaders said.

The focus of the Karnataka campaign on corruption and the coining of "40 percent sarkara" slogan has also worked well on the ground as the campaign was launched by the local leadership almost over a year ago.

The Congress also effectively cashed in on the anti-incumbency against the BJP government.

Free power to free rice, major pledges of Congress
The party has pledged to implement on the very first day after coming to power its poll guarantees like 200 units of free power to all house8holds (Gruha Jyoti), Rs 2,000 monthly assistance to the woman head of every family (Gruha Lakshmi), 10 kg of rice free to every member of a BPL household (Anna Bhagya).

Also, Rs 3,000 every month for graduate youth and Rs 1,500 for diploma holders (both in the age group of 18-25) for two years (YuvaNidhi), and free travel for women in public transport buses (Shakti) were promised.

(with PTI inputs)

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