Corruption issue, ‘guarantees’ and putting up united front do the trick for Cong in Karnataka

Bengaluru: Putting up a united front and making corruption a central theme of its campaign coupled with pre-poll ‘guarantees’ of free power and rice and unemployment dole did the trick for Congress in defeating the BJP, which was weighed down by anti-incumbency.

In addition, the Muslim vote, which accounted for nearly 13 per cent of the electorate, consolidated in favour of the party, Congress sources said.

The Congress has promised to implement poll ‘guarantees’ — 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 BPL 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 (Shakti – on the very first day after coming to power in the state.

The Congress successfully wresting power in Karnataka after Himachal Pradesh will be a morale booster for the party in reviving its electoral fortunes and strengthening its credentials as the main opposition player against the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

“I think this election is crucial. This result is the stepping stone for the party in the Lok Sabha election in 2024 …. I also hope that Rahul Gandhi becomes the prime minister of this country,” party stalwart and former chief minister Siddaramaiah said.

With the win in Karnataka, the Congress has also bounced back after the recent losses in the Northeastern states and it will give the momentum needed to take on the battle-ready election machinery of the BJP later this year in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

The Congress, by and large, focused on local issues in this election and its campaign also was run by state leaders initially. However, its central leaders such as party president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra pitched in subsequently.

The Congress entered the campaign with the challenge of keeping at bay the factionalism, especially between the camps of its two chief ministerial aspirants — Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar — who were often seen to be engaging in political one-upmanship, but succeeded in putting up a united front and ensured that no rift came out in the open and derailed its prospects.

This poll was also a prestige battle in a way for the grand old party with a Kannadiga Mallikarjun Kharge, who hails from Kalaburagi district, at its helm as the national president.

Though the campaign initially centered around its state leaders like Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar, Kharge gave it momentum and thereby prepared the pitch for the party’s top leaders Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to join in.

The brother-sister duo extensively travelled across the state, challenging the BJP’s campaign blitz led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, countering him on various issues, and raising the issue of corruption, while promising to provide a better alternative for Karnataka.

Their mother and former AICC president Sonia Gandhi addressed a party rally in Hubballi on Saturday.

The party held 99 public meetings and 33 road shows by its top state and central leaders.

The Congress, which had set a target of winning 150 seats, had repeatedly urged voters to ensure that it gets an absolute majority so that BJP doesn’t “steal” the mandate by managing defections of other party legislators and “manufacture” a majority in its favour.

The focus of the Congress attack on the BJP government was over corruption and the charge of “40 per cent commission”, coupled with the Adani issue, which according to several party leaders seems to have echoed with the sentiment of the people.

While extensively highlighting its five key poll ‘guarantees’, the party tried to inform the people about its charge against the BJP government of having “failed in fulfilling 90 per cent of its promises” made in its 2018 manifesto.

The Congress was aiming to attract the Lingayat vote base of the BJP by trying to project that the saffron party was neglecting the community.

While pointing at instances such as the alleged sidelining of Lingayat community leaders in the party like B S Yediyurappa, the Congress got more ammunition in a way when two senior BJP leaders from the dominant community – Jagadish Shettar (former CM) and Laxman Savadi (former Deputy CM) – joined the party over being denied ticket to contest the polls by the BJP.

Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi repeatedly invoked 12th Century social reformer Basavanna in their speeches while accusing the BJP of spreading communal hatred.

At a time when it seemed like all was going well for it, Congress also waded into controversies with Siddaramaiah’s statement that “there’s already a Lingayat CM who is the most corrupt”, which the BJP turned into an “insult” to the entire Lingayat community.

Mallikarjun Kharge’s “venomous snake” barb at Prime Minister Modi and then his son and Chittapur MLA Priyank Kharge’s “nalayak beta” (incompetent son) remark against him, were latched onto by the BJP which had urged the voters to punish the Congress for its “politics of abuse”.

Amid these back-to-back controversies, the Congress manifesto’s promise of banning the Bajrang Dal caused some anxiety to the party, as the BJP and PM Modi aggressively picked up the issue to portray the grand old party as being against Lord Hanuman and the sentiments of Hindus.

However, it did not sway voters in Karnataka who voted against “misgovernance” and “rejected attempts at polarisation and division”, Congress leaders said.

“I am happy we contested the Karnataka polls without using hate, bad language. We fought the polls with love. In Karnataka, ‘nafrat ka bazaar (market of hate)’ has closed down’, ‘mohabbat ki dukaanein’ (shops of love) have opened,” Rahul Gandhi said.

In the Karnataka polls, on one side there was the power of crony capitalists and on the other, there was the strength of poor people, Gandhi said.

By voting Congress to power, the people of Karnataka have once again followed the tradition of not voting back the ruling party since 1985.

This is also the Congress’ best-ever performance since 1999, when the party came to power by winning 132 seats and formed the government with S M Krishna as the chief minister.