“Congratulations to the Congress party for their victory in the Karnataka Assembly polls. My best wishes to them in fulfilling people’s aspirations,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Saturday as the Grand Old Party knocked the saffron party off its southern perch.
After 10 long years, the Congress returned to power in the state on its own – in 2018 they had joined hands with the Janata Dal (Secular) – in the southern state, winning 136 seats to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 65. The margin of victory for the Congress is way more than what the exit polls had predicted on 10 May after voting had ended in the state.
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The win is a significant one for the Congress, who has been on a losing streak. Leaders across the party celebrated the party’s triumph, with chief Mallikarjun Kharge saying, “This is the victory of Janata janardhan. All our leaders have worked unitedly and people have voted for our guarantees.”
As the win is celebrated across Congress party offices, here’s what we learn from the victory and what it means for the party in 2024.
A united Congress can do wonders
In the run-up to the Assembly elections, the Karnataka Congress unit was a divided affair. It was split into two – one being led by former chief minister Siddaramaiah and the other headed by DK Shivakumar. Both of them harbour aspirations to become the chief minister of the southern state.
However, the Congress was able to keep their issues at bay and coordinated well-crafted joint appearances, showing a clear united front. They made an appearance together with Rahul Gandhi during his Bharat Jodo Yatra. And when asked about the differences between them, they refuted claims of having any issues.
For DK Shivakumar, a win for the party is also a personal win. He still holds a grudge against the BJP for his two-month tenure in Tihar jail in Delhi in 2019 on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. He claimed that this was political vendetta at its very worst.
The margins of win for the Congress are also huge. The Grand Old Party has secured 43 per cent of the overall votes in the state while the BJP won 35.91 per cent. An analysis reveals that Congress gained five per cent in terms of vote share when compared to 2018. On the other hand, the BJP’s vote share remains more or less the same as the previous election at 36 per cent. However, the big loser here is the Janata Dal(Secular) which reported a negative five per cent swing, securing 13 per cent of the votes polled.
A win of love over hate
Shortly after early leads showed a win for the Congress, disqualified MP Rahul Gandhi said, “I am happy we contested the Karnataka polls without using hate, bad language. We fought the polls with love. In Karnataka, the market of hate (‘nafrat ka bazaar’) has closed down and shops of love (‘mohabbat ki dukaanein’) opened.
The party, more or less, refrained from making personal jibes at BJP leaders. The one exception to that would be Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge’s son, Priyank, who called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a ‘nalayak’. He was issued a showcause notice by the Election Commission.
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Corruption remains a big issue
What wooed voters to the Congress’ side? Poll pundits state that a lot had to do with the Congress’ focus on corruption in the Basavaraj Bommai-led government. They launched the PayCM campaign in which posters bearing a QR code were displayed across the state before the polls. When people scanned the code, it took them to a website – ‘40% Sarkara’ – which alleged that the BJP government was charging 40 per cent commission on public works.
In addition to this, they also launched the SayCM campaign, seeking responses from the chief minister to 50 questions posed by the Opposition. The campaign used the same graphic as that of the PayCM campaign with the visage of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai in a QR code format. The text in the graphic read, “SayCM 90% undelivered” and “Do we need to PAYCM for CM to SAY”.
Local issues score big
Another factor contributing to Congress’ triumph in the state is the party’s focus on local issues. In their manifesto, which it released in early May, the Congress made six big poll promises – to provide 200 units of free power to all households (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 below poverty line household (Anna Bhagya), 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.
Many of these promises are veered in favour of women that make up 49.7 per cent of the total electorate in the state. Political analyst Gautham Machaiah told The Outlook: “As of now, there is no empirical data to concretely state which way the women’s vote swung this time. But considering the fact that women voters exceed men in 50 per cent of the constituencies, it is obvious that they played a decisive role in the Congress performance.”
Caste and Muslim factor
What also worked in the Congress’ favour was the Muslim vote, which accounted for nearly 13 per cent of the electorate. The Grand Old Party has Siddaramaiah to thank for this, as he had been campaigning for a larger unity between Dalit, OBC and Muslim votes.
Additionally, there was resentment against the BJP for scrapping the four per cent quota for the Other Backward Classes Muslims. This was divided between the Vokkaligas and Lingayats.
The Congress win also shows a realignment of castes in the state. As News18 reports, the Congress swept some of the districts in Kittur, Kalyana Karnataka, Central Karnataka, and the southern part of the old Mysuru region. The BJP could sweep only two districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada and won some seats here and there across the state. Kittur Karnataka and Kalyana Karnataka regions are Lingayat strongholds, with many OBCs, mainly Kurubas and SCs/STs.
The Congress also won the Chikmagalur district. The victory can be attributed to a decisive shift in Vokkaliga votes who backed their caste leader DK Shivakumar. The same thing has happened in Mandya, Bengaluru Rural, Chikkaballapur, and Ramanagara: again, a DKS impact.
A template for future elections
With the win in Karnataka, the Congress is now in power in four states – Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh. This win provides them with a boost to their confidence and also cements their position among other opposition parties. Additionally, it sets the tone for the three key elections in November-December this year (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) as well as for the general elections in 2024.
The poll win will also serve as a template for other opposition parties across the states when it comes to battling the BJP.
While some may say that the loss in BJP is no real surprise – the state has not voted an incumbent government back into power since 1985 – the saffron party would definitely be hurting while the Congress celebrates.
With inputs from agencies
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