Analysis | Karnataka Assembly polls will be key to Congress revival before 2024 Lok Sabha elections

The Congress faces the challenge of keeping at bay the intense factionalism between the Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar camps

Updated - March 23, 2023 04:06 pm IST

Published - March 12, 2023 11:21 am IST - New Delhi

Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and Randeep Singh Surjewala during a protest against the Karnataka Government. File

Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and Randeep Singh Surjewala during a protest against the Karnataka Government. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections will be crucial for the Congress to not only reverse its fortunes after the recent setback in the Northeast elections but also to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) later this year in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Apart from being a morale booster, a win could give the party much-needed elbow room to position itself as the main player to lead a coalition against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Also Read | Congress to appeal to EC to announce Karnataka Assembly polls immediately

And since Karnataka is the home State of Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, the BJP is likely to make it a prestige battle to retain the State.

While the BJP has been engaging with former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa to reach out to the powerful Lingayat community that makes up about 17% of the electorate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to lead the party’s campaign in terms of showing development work.

“The BJP seems to be oscillating between insulting and adopting Mr. Yediyurappa, unable to decide if they want to relegate him to the dustbin of history on account of unprecedented corruption as well as hostility towards him by the Prime Minister,” said Randeep Surjewala, the Congress general secretary for Karnataka.

Notwithstanding such brave posturing, the Congress has put in place the Lingayat outreach. While senior leader M.B. Patil occupies the foremost in that attempt, several other Lingayat leaders, including Lakshmi Hebbalkar, Vijayanand Kashappanavar, Vinay Kulkarni, Shivannd Patil and Yashwantrao Patil, are reaching out to their community.

“The manner in which the BJP has insulted Panchamasali Lingayats has unnerved the community and put them on a warpath,” claims Mr. Surjewala who added that the Congress would give “substantial representation” to the community while giving away tickets.

Meanwhile, the party would bank on Karnataka Congress chief D.K. Shivakumar to woo the Vokkaligas, the other politically significant community that make up about 14% of the population.

The party is circulating guarantee cards with three guarantees — a monthly guarantee of ₹2,000 to nearly 1.5 crore women under the Grih Lakshmi scheme, 200 units of electricity free under the Grih Jyoti scheme and 10 kg of free rice to BPL families under the Anna Bhagya scheme.

The party has also announced a 10-point separate charter for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as well as a 10-point resolution for the coastal or karawali region with promises like making Mangalore the new IT and garment industry hub that can create one lakh jobs.

And to ensure that the message reaches the intended beneficiaries, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Mr. Shivakumar have not only embarked upon Praja Dhwani yatras across the State but have also signed the guarantee card.

The Congress, however, faces the challenge of keeping at bay the intense factionalism between the Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar camps.

“We are focusing on saving Karnataka from the clutches of the 40% commission government run by the BJP. And all our leaders are aiming at that like Arjuna was aiming at the fish eye... And Mr. Kharge’s goodwill will have an electrifying effect on our campaign,” said Mr. Surjewala, trying to downplay factional rivalry.

The other possible challenge for the party would be to consolidate the nearly 17% minority votes in its favour. With Congress taking a somewhat ambivalent stance during the Hijab row, Muslim voters are likely to weigh other options like H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) that has made former Congress strongman C.M. Ibrahim as the party’s State president.

(With inputs from Nagesh Prabhu in Bengaluru)

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