A booster shot for a beleaguered party — that’s what the victory in Karnataka is for the Congress. But it will have to pull hard on the oars. Elections to the Lok Sabha are less than a year away. The impulse that guided the Karnataka voter to discard the BJP will then be the Congress’ worry.
The talking points shall be different, the issues vastly variegated, from corruption to inflation to jobless economic growth. Things may well change between now and the polls due in 2014. But for that to happen, the Congress has to get its act together at the Centre and in states that will elect assemblies before the big ticket contest.
Karnataka is the third state the Congress has wrested from the BJP after Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It decisively lost in Gujarat but let Punjab slip out of its grasp despite strong anti-incumbency sentiments against the Akali-BJP combine.
The split in the Karnataka BJP helped. But the Congress’ OBC-Dalit-Muslim social alliance fetched it dividends across the state, repeating Devaraj’s Urs 1971 victory at the expense of the influential Lingayat-Vokkaliga communities.
The Congress’ take-away from Wednesday’s results: What did it do wrong in Punjab but could correct in Karnataka to minimise factionalism and faulty ticket distribution? Is the script replicable in states bound for polls in November-December: the Congress-ruled Rajasthan-Delhi and the BJP-run Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh?
Factionalism is the Congress’ bane in these states. Anti-incumbency on account of local and national issues is fiercer in Rajasthan and Delhi than in Chhattisgarh and MP. The BJP will exploit these infirmities to the hilt to avenge Karnataka.
There aren’t any short cuts to sewing up social pacts that drive electoral success. But fair and equitable selection of candidates does at times help parties assemble competing communities under one umbrella.
Karnataka is a case in point. The Congress can fine-tune the Deccan model for Chhattisgarh and MP where the BJP is stronger but not without its share of anti-incumbency sentiments.
A negative campaign predicated on hackneyed ‘secular versus communal’ rhetoric wouldn’t wash the taint of scams at the Centre. The Congress will need some smart house-keeping and landmark initiatives — such as those on food security and land acquisition — to put up a respectable fight.
Also in order will be a couple of sacrifices — such as Virbhadra Singh’s resignation as Union minister in the face of graft accusations before turning the tables on the BJP in Himachal Pradesh.
The Yeddyurappa rebellion made the Congress’ task easier in Karnataka; an advantage it doesn’t have in states next-in-the-line for elections. The party will have to work hard to prevent a saffron-sweep in the four provinces. It’s easier said than done — but not beyond the pale of possibility.