Every party has a particular moment that helps gain political support. The 137-year-old Congress, which has seen many ups and downs, is no exception
Last week, its landslide victory in Karnataka significantly boosted its workers and leaders. Will the Congress leaders build on the Karnataka victory, just as Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used her Chikmagalur moment?
Gandhi, who lost elections in 1977, won the Chikmagalur Constituency in a bye-election and returned to Parliament in 1978. Within two years, she also recaptured power. Incidentally, she 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. She rode on an elephant and a tractor to reach them as the roads were cut off.
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 became the Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in 2004 but declined to be the Prime Minister.
Winning such a prosperous and significant Karnataka is a big fillip to the demoralised Congress. But, it cannot afford to sit on the laurels of recent victory if the Party wants to revive itself. There are many challenges before the upcoming elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Telangana and Mizorum later this year, and the Grand finale is in 2024.
The BJP's high-voltage campaign in Karnataka, with Prime Minister Modi as its mascot, did not click. The hardline Hindutva politics worked only within the coastal districts. There was a strong perception of corruption and a weak chief minister. There were only a few local issues the BJP could raise.
The Saffron Party must build solid second-rung
leaders. Though the loss was a big jolt, the Party has already started working with double vigour. It may only experiment to split Congress MLAs with 'Operation Kamala' after a while. But Congress must keep its flock. The Congress played its card well by raising the bread and butter and local issues. It paid dividends. It also gave the local leaders a free hand. The High command only assisted in the campaign.
But then came the choice of the chief minister. Two solid aspirants were fighting for the throne. Had the Party's top brass left the newly elected legislators to choose their chief minister, it would have been more democratic and clarified that the chief minister was not imposed from above. Instead, the legislature Party passed the usual one-line resolution leaving the choice to High Command, indicating that the Party has yet to learn any lesson.
The two aspirants, = former chief minister Siddharamaih and PCC chief D.K. Shiv Kumar = were cooling their heels in Delhi for four days. Ultimately a power-sharing formula was found with Siddharamaiah as chief minister and Shiv Kumar as his deputy. It was Sonia Gandhi who finally resolved the issue by mollifying Shiv Kumar.
Secondly, the real test will be how Congress handles its newly acquired clout, particularly when forming an Opposition coalition for the 2024 Election. The Party should refrain from showing its big brother attitude. Some 209 Lok Sabha seats are spread across 19 states, where the Congress and the BJP are in direct contact. Even a united non-BJP coalition can bring BJP down to 210 in a best-case scenario. So mere arithmetic alone will not work. 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, Congress must implement its poll promises before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls so the people would trust the Party. The Party has promised to supply 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 and must resolve the Rajasthan and Chattisgarh Power struggles before the upcoming polls. The former Deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot wants to replace Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, but Ghelot is unwilling to go. There was a temporary truce, but the issue must be resolved.
A similar situation prevails in Chhattisgarh; 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. Finally, the
loss of Karnataka means the BJP has no presence in the South.
The South has 129 seats, of which the BJP won only 29 in 2019. The Party needs to change its poll narrative to succeed in the South, as the Hindutva or Ram Mandir has no takers. 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.
(The author is a senior journalist)