India’s Karnataka Verdict: Opposition Parties Must Capitalize on Momentum

The outcome of the Karnataka election marks a significant setback for the BJP, as the Congress party made phenomenal gains that will have far-reaching effects on multiple levels.

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Rahul Gandhi, MP and a senior leader of India's main opposition Congress party, is during his 4,000km (2,485-mile)-long "unity march" [ Photo: Special Arrangement]

The Karnataka mandate changes both the arithmetic and the chemistry for anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the year leading up to the 2024 national elections. That’s when Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be seeking a third term and the Karnataka result shows that he can indeed be defeated.
The BJP/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership in all its wisdom chose to make Modi the centrepiece of a state campaign. This intense campaign has failed to prevent a decisive defeat for the BJP in its only holding in South India.

It’s a serious setback for the BJP as the gains for the Congress are phenomenal, and will work at multiple levels. First, the party has come back to power in a resource-rich state that should give both practical support and momentum to its 2024 campaign. Second, the Gandhi family performed as a good support structure to state leaders without seeking to over-stage them; that’s an important balance the BJP did not maintain.

Priyanka Gandhi was both combative and charismatic in her campaign outings. Many of the places where the party did well were on the route of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra (unlike places where Modi campaigned). The win in Karnataka does enhance Rahul Gandhi’s profile, yet it can be argued that the party could benefit even more were it to clarify that he does not seek public office (after all, he is technically disqualified as an MP). It would then make a virtue out of a necessity.

Most significantly, it was during the Karnataka campaign that Rahul Gandhi and Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge pitched for the social justice plank that is an article of faith with their alliance partners in Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Both demanded that the 50 percent cap on reservation be removed and a caste census be conducted even as they came with the slogan ‘jitni abaadi/utna haq’ (rights should reflect the population numbers).

Siddaramaiah, arguably the biggest mass leader in Karnataka currently and a frontrunner for the post of Chief Minister, draws his strength from the social justice plank and had pitched for upping reservation to 75 percent. It would be interesting if after the Karnataka results, the Congress concludes that a pro-poor image and the social justice pitch is the most effective counter to Hindutva in future poll battles.
The party would be hoping there will be a spill-over in other state elections due in the second half of the year. A direct contest with the BJP takes place in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. But what’s also intriguing is the impact on Telangana that is ruled by a regional party, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), and will have assembly elections in late 2023.

The Congress has done well in the Hyderabad Karnataka region that borders Telangana. Reports from Telangana indicate a gradual revival of the Congress; not enough to unseat the BRS, but there are apparently chances of emerging as a strong Opposition in the state. There has been media hype about the BJP fancying its prospects in Telangana, but the impact of the Karnataka verdict could change equations in the neighbouring state.

Such calculations also highlight the contradictions in creating a combined Opposition for 2024. It is not a clean arrangement in states where the Congress is competing with regional forces, yet it works nicely in states such as Bihar and Tamil Nadu where the national party is a junior partner in the ruling alliances. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been the most pro-active in seeking to forge a broad Opposition consensus before 2024.

The Congress stock will also rise in neighbouring Maharashtra — another wealthy state — where the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde faction) is believed to be losing ground. It is in states where the Congress could be seen as potentially improving its fortunes that there will be problems in the nitty-gritty of seat allocation and power sharing with allies.

Yet, there is also no denying that even ruling parties that are deeply hostile to the Congress, such as the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi and Punjab, have also changed position in recent times and called for Opposition unity.

Source: Deccan Herald

SLG Syndication

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