Will Congress return to power in Karnataka?

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 22, 2018 12:32 hrs
Rahul Gandhi and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah look on during the Gram Swaraj Samavesh in Bangalore on October 9, 2015. (AFP image)

Who will win 2018 assembly elections in Karnataka? This is a question that political pundits are asking among themselves for the last several months. But till now there is no answer in sight.

Karnataka is the last major state still under Congress rule and the BJP with a dream to make the country Congress Mukt (Nation without Congress) has been trying its best to clinch the state in the forthcoming election. Its desperation to win the state can be gauged by the fact that the saffron party has deployed all its top guns in the state. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to party national president Amit Shah and the latest Hindutva mascot and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, all are campaigning vigorously across the Southern state.

Other than Karnataka, the Congress party remains in power in just a few other states including Punjab that the party surprisingly snatched from Akali Dal and the BJP combine last year. 

Karnataka is one of the biggest states in the country. It is the fifth largest economy in the country with more than sixty million people. If Congress loses the state, the BJP will be in a sniffing distance from realizing its dream of Congress mukt Bharat.

Congress has been Haemorrhaging one state after the other to the BJP for the last four years, ever since it lost the Central government to the Narendra Modi led Bhartiya Janta Party. From just a handful of states where the BJP ruled, before its ascent to power at the center, the party is ruling around twenty states on its own or in alliance with its allies. 

But over the last few months things seem to be changing. The Congress party seems to be coming out of the stasis of shock and disbelief following the Lok Sabha drubbing in 2014. There are signs that air seems to be changing though rather very slowly. Congress President Rahul Gandhi seems to have overcome his initial inhibitions that made him an easy prey for the BJP and its mean electronic warfare machine. 

Is Congress stock on the rise?

The Congress Party did pretty well in Gujarat elections towards the end of the year 2017. The grand old party, along with its alliance partners, consisting of small parties and Dalit groups amazed many when it bagged as many as 80 seats in the state. The BJP was claiming on top of the voice that it will improve upon its previous performance and bag 150 seats. At one time, while the polling was on, the tide seemed to be turning in Congress’ favour as it seemed to be outdoing the incumbent government. It is altogether a different thing that the BJP won, marginally beating the Congress and retaining the state. 

Gujarat is not the only sign of improving fortunes of the Congress party in the country. Rajasthan, where the Congress party was decimated in the last Lok Sabha elections, saw signs of resurgence when in the recently held by-polls, the party thrashed the BJP winning all the three seats where by-elections were held. This included two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly seat. Not just the win, the margin of victories baffled the political pundits, sending shockwaves in the BJP cadre. 

Divided opposition

The biggest hope for the Congress party in the state is the fact that the opposition is badly divided. Janta Dal (S) and the BJP, both are fighting elections separately and there are no signs that there may be any pre-poll alliance between the two. Janta Dal (S), despite being considerably weakened over the last few years is still a power to reckon with in the state and can upset the applecart of both, the BJP and the Congress. 

Congress party had won the last assembly elections in the state by a landslide, winning 122 seats out of the 224 seats in the state legislature. It had won close to 37 percent votes compared to just over 20 percent votes for the JDS and just under 20 percent votes for the BJP. Both the parties won 40 seats each in the state assembly. Nonetheless, the BJP did exceptionally well in the 16th Lok Sabha elections held in 2014 winning 17 seats out of the total 28 Lok Sabha seats from the states. Still Congress held its ground and won 9 seats, improving over its previous tally of 7 in the previous Lok Sabha elections. 

We shouldn’t ignore the fact that in the year 2014, there was hawa blowing in favour of the BJP. Even then, BJP tally came down to 17 from 19 in the previous Lok Sabha elections. Now when there is no wave in favour of the BJP either in Rajasthan or in Karnataka, winning the state is an uphill task for the BJP, despite its all-out efforts to do so.

Siddaramaiah factor

The BJP has been winning elections in several states regularly. In Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Gujarat, the saffron party has been returning to power under three powerful leaders. Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat gave several victories to his party in one election after the other in the western state. Congress has not many powerful chieftains at state levels. Siddaramaiah and Amrinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab are just two exceptions. 

Siddaramaiah has managed the state deftly and has shown an unusual dexterity in keeping the cross section of population happy and glued to every word he speaks. He has tried to emulate the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha, who won the hearts of people of her state through her popular schemes for the poor. There is no denying that his different welfare schemes have made the lives of poor people easy.

While writing in the Deccan Herald, MV RAJEEV GOWDA says, “First, Siddaramaiah has delivered. More than 90 per cent of the Congress’ manifesto promises stand redeemed. This track record stands out as a contrast to Prime Minister Modi’s poll promises which have been mere jumlas. Congress has provided an inclusive, stable and effective administration. There has been no major scandal or crippling dissidence over the last five years. Unlike the much-hyped Gujarat Model that benefitted only a few, the Karnataka model has assiduously worked for the have-nots through innovative social sector programs. Karnataka is the number one investment destination in the country, and Bengaluru is a vibrant, economic powerhouse”.

Muslims still a factor in Karnataka

 Unlike Gujarat where Congress president Rahul Gandhi cold shouldered the Muslim community, he is courting Muslim community leaders in Karnataka. Muslims not just make 15 percent of the state population, they are the part of the state mainstream and completely integrated in it. Playing communal card in a state where Muslims are completely integrated in it and part of the mainstream is very difficult for the BJP. 

A Lokniti (CSDS) research found that more than half of those covered under the said survey claimed to have Muslims as their close friends. Playing communal card is easier in states where there is schism between Hindus and Muslims and not in a cosmopolitan society like urban Karnataka.

More columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:

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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.

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