By Kalyani Shankar
Dame Luck smiles at every Party at a particular moment. The 137-year Grand Old Congress Party, which has seen many ups and downs, is no exception. Winning a prosperous and significant Karnataka recently gave Congress that golden moment. If Congress wants to revive itself, it can’t sit on the laurels of recent triumph.
Congress faces elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram later this year, and the Grand finale is in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Will the Congress build on the Karnataka victory, drawing on the history of how late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used her Chikmagaluru moment? She always took advantage of every opportunity.
Old-timers recall how Indira, after the emergency used her Chikmagaluru by-election win in 1978 to return to bring her Party to power in 1980Lok Sabha elections… They also recall how Indira used her Belchi moment to her advantage. In July 1977, 11 persons, including eight Dalits, were ruthlessly murdered by a gang in Bihar. She visited the victims in Belchi by riding an elephant and a tractor.
Karnataka was lucky for Indira’s daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi too. She won her first elections in 1999 from the Bellary constituency, a Congress citadel. She built a viable coalition, brought the Party to power in 2004, and ruled for ten years.
The present victory has given Congress to seize two immediate initiatives. One is to revive the organisation, which is out of shape. The second is to take the lead in uniting the Opposition with its newfound boost.
The Congress played its card well in Karnataka by raising the bread and butter and local issues. It also gave the local leaders a free hand. The High command only assisted in the campaign. It paid dividends
On the contrary, the BJP played a wrong poll strategy to the advantage of the Congress. Depending on the Modi magic and the high-voltage campaign by top BJP leaders gave limited success for the BJP. The weak chief minister Bommai and allegations of enormous corruption added to its woes. The Hindutva or Ram Mandir have no takers. Hindutva worked only within Coastal districts. There were only a few local issues the BJP could raise. The election also showed that to succeed in the South, it needs s different poll narrative.
More importantly, the loss of Karnataka means the BJP has no presence in South India. The South has 129 seats, of which the BJP won only 29 in 2019.
Congress must learn from the Karnataka polls. Had the Party’s top brass left the newly elected legislators to choose their chief minister, it would have been more democratic. Instead, the legislature Party passed the usual one-line resolution leaving the choice to High Command.
The two aspirants – former chief minister Siddaramaiah and PCC chief D.K. Shivakumar – were cooling their heels in Delhi for four days. Sonia Gandhi finally resolved the issue. She mollified Shiv Kumar to agree to a power-sharing formula with Siddaramaiah as chief minister and Shiv Kumar as his deputy.
Secondly, the real test will be how Congress handles its newly acquired clout for uniting the Opposition coalition for the 2024 Election. In this regard, Congress used the swearing-in ceremony of chief minister Siddaramaiah on Saturday to exhibit its newfound vigour.
A united Opposition must grab the opportunity to perform well in the upcoming elections. Some 209 Lok Sabha seats are spread across 19 states, where the Congress and the BJP are in direct contest. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has been talking of a one-to-one fight.
Thirdly, Congress regained its lost vote bank of Muslims, Dalits and Backward classes in Karnataka. It should not only be preserved but also replicated in the upcoming elections.
Fourthly, Siddaramaiah began well and implemented five poll promises in his first cabinet meeting as promised. His challenge is to take everybody along and protect his flock from poaching by the BJP. The welfare measures include supplying 200 units of free power to all households, Rs 2000 per month to the head of the family, and 10 kgs of free rice to every member of a BPL household.
Congress has other headaches. It must resolve the Rajasthan and Chattisgarh Power struggles before the upcoming polls. It needs delicate handling. The former Deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot wants to replace Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, but Gehlot is unwilling to go. Both can cause trouble if the other gets the prize.
A similar situation prevails in Chattisgarh; there has been a power struggle between chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and cabinet minister TS Singh Deo. Rahul Gandhi promised a rotational chief minister after two and a half years in 2018. Deo has been demanding the change.
The recent win in Himachal Pradesh and now Karnataka have shown Congress that unity in the Party and the Opposition, a robust organisation and a compelling narrative should be the new mantra in the coming months. (IPA Service)