By Rajan Narayan
EVEN 72 hours after the Congress registered a sweeping victory in the Karnataka elections, it has not been able to decide on who will lead the new government. With a clear majority of 139 seats the Congress is in a position to form a government on its own. In addition, it has the support of the Independents and the Janata Dal(S).
Even the invincible Narendra Modi had to bite the dust in Karnataka, his 26 hours of flamboyant long road show did not have sufficient impact on the electorate to swing a massive saffron wave. Whether it was a question of over-kill on Modi’s part or greater coordination amongst the senior Congress leaders like former chief minister Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, the Congress got double the seats of the BJP. However, the problem with the Congress is that it is a genius at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Congress worked with unity with the two major communities in Karnataka – the Lingayats and Vokkaligas. In contrast, the BJP lost a large part of its Lingayat votes. The Congress showed great solidarity in racing past the winning post this time. The problem started with the unexpected and sweeping victory. It is often said that it is more difficult to deal with success than failure. The two senior leaders Siddaramiah, an incumbent chief minister, and DK Shivakumar who represents the Vokkaligas worked in great harmony till polling day.
EVEN before the results could come in, the supporters of the two senior leaders started staking their claim for the chief minister’s post. It looked as though the Congress had changed its tardy ways and decided to strike while the iron was hot. The Congress High Command convened a meeting of the elected Congress MLAs along with High Command Observers at 6pm on Sunday, May 14, 2023 at a Bengalaru hotel.
The expectation was that the Congress will finalize the chief minister’s name on Sunday night itself. It was presumed that the fact that AICC president Malikarjun Kharge who is from Karnataka would help smoothen the process. But clearly the two senior contenders Shivakumar and Siddaramiah were not willing to concede a millimetre. Both of them have been insisting that they should be the chief minister. Siddharamiah in fact stressed that he is responsible for the sweeping victory. But Shiv Kumar has a sizeable following also.
It is typical of the Congress that it should come up with absurd solutions. Like splitting the term of the chief minister. Siddharamiah and Shivkumar would occupy the chief minister’s model for two-and-a-half years each. This led to a fight about who will get the first chance at being chief minister. In the usual Congress tradition the matter the buck has been passed on the Gandhi dynasty. Rahul Gandhi who played a major role in the Congress victory with his Bharat Jodo Yatra is now to decide who will be the chief minister.
The Congress are lucky that Home Minister Amit Shah did not land in Bengaluru to split the Congress vote as the BJP did in Goa after the swearing-in of Dr Pramod Sawant. It may be recalled that eight Congress MLAs representing one-third of the Congress legislative party defected to the BJP, including veterans like Pratapsingh Raoji Rane who has been Congress chief minister eight times, as well as former chief minister and Margao MLA Digambar Kamat.
THE split in the Congress at the highest level has affected the party in all its strongholds. There was a large section within the party led by Kapil Sibel who believed that the dynasty should not be involved in Congress politics. Even though the dynasty went through the farce of holding an open election for the post of president of the party. It was rigged in favour of Mallikarjun Kharge who is a Sonia Gandhi loyalist.
The Congress High Command is not able to control the revolts in various parts of the country. In Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot has been waging war against Chief Minister Gehlot. In Maharashtra, the Congress lost because of the infighting amongst senior leaders. Similarly, it was the split in the local party that undermined the chances of the Congress in the North East. At one time the North East was a monopoly of the Congress. Now, excepting Meghalaya the North East seats have been captured by the BJP.
Even though Mallikarjun Kharge is the president of the Congress party it is clear that Rahul Gandhi still calls the shots. Mallikarjun was not projected as the leader of the Congress campaign. The entire credit was taken by Rahul Gandhi. Indeed, Rahul Gandhi is reported to have said that he was invincible. Unfortunately, many of the senior-most leaders of the Congress have no regard for Rahul Gandhi who is considered inconsistent. The victory of the Congress in Karnataka has raised questions about the so-called invincibility of Narendra Modi. Narendra Modi has been projecting himself as the emperor who cannot be defeated. In the run-up to the 2024 parliamentary elections, Karnataka was the last big state going to the polls. Everyone was expecting that Modi & Company would steamroll Karnataka with their double-engine growth. The miserable performance of the BJP has raised questions about the credibility of Modi. The moral of the story of the recent Karnataka election Congress victory is that Modi can be beaten.
The other opposition parties who have been hoping to replace Modi through the united political association have gained fresh hope that BJP can be challenged in the parliamentary elections next year. Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and all the other contenders feel a little more confident. But one sparrow does not make a spring. Time alone will tell whether Karnataka’s Congress victory and the BJP’s defeat is an exceptional case.