Karnataka polls crucial for Congress to dent BJP’s prospects in 2024
Although the anti-incumbency of the Basavaraj Bommai administration is a key rallying point, the Congress faces multiple hurdles in its quest for power in Karnataka
The Karnataka assembly election has never been so important for the Congress party. A victory can reinstate a Congress government in southern India, which the party has been missing since February 2021. A positive result in its favour will also have the potential to dent the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prospects in next year’s general election.
With Mallikarjun Kharge, a nine-term MLA of the state and a third-term member of Parliament, as president, the party’s key pitch would be the corruption charges against the state BJP leadership and anti-incumbency. “Congress will highlight the corruption of the BJP government,” Kharge said. “Our workers are very active at the booth level.”
On Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi was expected to address a rally in Kolar, part of the crucial Bengaluru rural, old Mysuru region that is likely to decide the fate of this election. However, Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar confirmed that the public meeting has been postponed and may take place on April 16.
Kolar has a greater significance; Gandhi’s speech here in 2019 led to his conviction in a criminal defamation case, resulting in his disqualification from Parliament.
Although the anti-incumbency of the Basavaraj Bommai administration is a key rallying point, Congress faces multiple hurdles in its quest for power in Karnataka. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and the BJP’s traditional hold on the votes of the Lingayat community make the BJP no easy pushover.
The crucial votes of the Vokkaliga community, comprising around 11.8% of the state’s population and which can turn things around for the Congress, are unlikely to come easy. The Janata Dal (Secular) led by former Prime Minister HD Devegowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy as its face is a strong contender for the Vokkaliga votes. If the JD(S)’s grip on the Vokkaliga votes tightens, Congress will find it difficult to garner wins in this election.
The party will bank heavily on its former chief minister Siddaramaiah, two senior party leaders said, declining to be named. The other backward class leader from the dominant Kuruba community can be a key factor for the Congress. This time, he is fighting from his familiar seat of Varuna.
While the tussle between Siddaramaiah and state unit president DK Shivakumar is well known, a leader based in Bengaluru said: “We will try to do everything to ensure the internal fight between these two leaders doesn’t hamper the prospects of the party.” Kharge has announced that his party will not project any chief ministerial face.
Sandeep Shastri, national coordinator Lokniti network, added another factor. “Ticket distribution announcement brings with it disappointment and party switching. Across parties, loyalists are upset about newcomers finding favour... The season of ‘contesting on available party labels’ is on!” he tweeted.
Lok Sabha election
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP got 25 out of 28 seats in Karnataka, while the JD(S) bagged two and the Congress one. The sweeping victory in Karnataka, apart from the BJP’s tremendous performances in the Hindi Heartland, propelled the party to 303 seats for the first time in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress, which aims to form a larger front against the BJP in the next year’s parliamentary election, requires improvement in its tally in the Hindi belt and Karnataka. With regional parties in control of all states adjacent to the Bay of Bengal, an improved performance of the Congress in this assembly election can help the party get a larger share of the 28 seats of Karnataka next year.
The Congress’ previous tryst with power in Karnataka lasted just 14 months -- May 23, 2018, to July 23, 2019. Desperate to stop the BJP from returning to power for a consecutive second term, the Congress offered HD Kumaraswamy the chief ministerial position. The two parties’ fragile alliance government toppled when in July 2019, 13 Congress lawmakers and three JD(S) MLAs resigned.
The Congress’ previous government in Puducherry toppled in February 2021. The party also lost its chances to return to power in Kerala in 2021, which usually changes government every five years. Factionalism in Kerala and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s outreach programme during the pandemic hurt the Congress’ prospects.
The Congress is now in power as the junior partner of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu in south India. It also runs governments in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.
- Bharatiya Janata Party
- Janata Dal Secular
- Rahul Gandhi
- Mallikarjun Kharge
- Tamil Nadu
- Karnataka Assembly Election
- Bay Of Bengal
- Hd Kumaraswamy
- Left Democratic Front
- Hindi Heartland