By Harihar Swarup
Congress has romped home in Karnataka convincingly ousting the BJP in the state assembly elections held on May 10. This means there will be no presence of BJP in south India in any state government and it will remain only a North Indian party. If this trend continues, the Congress may do well in several states including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan due this year. The Congress Legislature party is meeting tomorrow in Bengaluru to elect a leader.
Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo yatra and his changed image of pappu to a mature leader may have helped Congress party in Karnataka to get a majority.
In the most ideological polls in Karnataka, most of the exit polls indicated that Congress has a clear edge over the BJP in run up to 2024 Lok Sabha. In a strength string of recent state polls, the practice has been for the BJP to raise its Hindutva pitch, which other parties tended to skirt around this issue.
The Congress released its manifesto that likened the Bajrang Dal to the Popular Front of India, and promised action, which could include a ban, against organizations spewing hate. The BJP responded on predictable lines, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi equating a ban on Bajrang Dal to a ban on Bajrang Bali or Lord Hanuman.
His flash point was the latest evidence of the fact that both parties have built their strategies for this assembly elections with a longer—term view of their respective ideologies. For the BJP, while an emphasis on Hindutva was expected, what was less so was the centralized version of this ideology that it has followed in this campaign. Over the past two decades, the BJP has tried to merge its version of Hindutva with local Hindu institutions of various shades and leanings, often ceding to the latter. In this round, there has been no such leeway.
Some state BJP leaders with influence in maths and other local Hindu institutions have not even been given tickets. And there has been an insistence that a vote for the BJP is a vote for PM Modi. Home Minister Amit Shah made this clear when, after introducing a candidate in a constituency, he stated that the vote was not for the candidate but for PM Modi.
The Congress has stuck closer to its ideological moorings than it has done for decades. Building its strategy around Rahul Gandhi’s emphasis on the first line of the Constitution that India is a union of states, the party has provided a prominent place for the state leadership. Its promises were made in the form of guarantee signed by the Leader of Opposition. Siddaramaiah, and state unit President D K Kumar. In his new role as Congress Chief, Mallikarjun Kharge was given a public role much later in the campaign even as the Gandhis were mobilized. The economic narrative was also built around protecting the state’s institutions, symbolized by the perceived battle between Karnataka Milk Federation, Nandini and more prominent national brand of Gujarat origin, Amul.
The long view taken by both parties may indicate that they are looking beyond the current round in Karnataka to the national elections next year. The BJP has left little room for doubt that it will fight the next parliamentary elections on a aversion of Hindutva symbolized by the person of PM Modi and his welfare push. About sidelining the old guard of leaders during a state election. it has reiterated its overwhelming confidence in the image of PM Modi. The Congress, in contrast, is using the Karnataka election to present itself as national party sensitive to local concerns. As distinct from the BJP or a national alliance of regional parties, the Congress would like to present itself in 2024 as a national party of local leaders. (IPA Service)