K’taka win will push Oppn parties to take it more seriously

The success in Karnataka has come as the much-needed oxygen for the Congress as it has been struggling to prove its prowess. It will help the Grand Old Party revive its electoral fortunes and also strengthen its credentials as the principal opposition party ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
A fine performance, even though it was on expected lines, given the sad state of affairs in the state, it has given the party a sound footing that can prove to be the right springboard for 2024.
Throughout the campaign, the Congress stayed focused on local concerns, worked systematically on anti-incumbency feelings, targeted the corrupt ministers and promised welfare measures. And more than these, successfully thwarted right-wing attempts to tar the campaign with religious colours.
The success of the Congress was only because of its steadfast focus on local issues and avoiding getting entangled in the Hindutva rhetoric. And, when it did get stuck for a moment after the Bajrang Dal reference in its manifesto, it decided not to back down. This possibly led to the consolidation of the Muslim votes in its favour at the expense of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S).
Muslims account for nearly 13 per cent of the electorate and were usually split between the Congress and the JD(S). But this time, hurt by the hijab controversy, scrapping of the 4 per cent quota, and other such decisions of the state government, the Muslims consolidated behind the Congress. All across the state, the community has voted for the Congress in a big way. And the promise to restore the 4 per cent reservation for them drew them even closer to the Congress.
The rest of the population seemed to be far more affected by the misgovernance or caste and community calls. All these factors helped the Congress to beat the BJP, more so, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who pulled out all the stops on the campaign trail.
The Congress was also able to keep its flock united in the state. It was able to rein in its two stalwarts — D.K. Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, who have been known to be at loggerheads with each other.
Their coordinated, well-crafted joint appearances were clear attempts to put up a clear united front. Party president Mallikarjun Kharge, Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, all travelling in the same car for the party meeting after the verdict, was an assuring picture.
The Karnataka electoral success has given the Congress the formula it has been looking for to match, score better and defeat the BJP, and also to stay at the top among the Opposition lot.
Besides finding the formula to checkmate the BJP, it has also been able to counter those in the Opposition who felt that the Congress could no longer lead the pack.
Several Opposition parties are trying to take a lead in getting the opposition united. Whether it is the BRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao or Bihar CM Nitish Kumar or West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, or even Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, or NCP president Sharad Pawar, efforts are being made by each of them to emerge as the tallest leader of a united Opposition.
The Opposition had been trying to overawe the Congress into play second fiddle after a series of losses. But the win in Karnataka has helped the Congress show its doubting allies that it can defeat the BJP in a direct fight.
And this they have done for the second time in seven months with Himachal Pradesh being the first one. The morale boosting win for the Congress will help it assert that it is the natural leader of the opposition block in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
The win also will encourage the Congress to head for the electoral battles in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh this year-end with greater confidence. It may have put the party and the Opposition on a pedestal, but to consolidate this ahead of the big fight in 2024, the opposition in turn will now have to rework its strategy to defeat the BJP and PM Modi.
The need to counter the BJP in one-on-one fights is a crucial part of the strategy. The win in Karnataka has by and large proved this. It is, however, easier said than done.
The one-on-one strategy seems to be near impossible to implement on the ground because of competing egos. The Congress therefore has to work on its own strategy and work state by state.
The Congress remains the only party at the national level which can counter PM Modi and the BJP. The Karnataka and Himachal wins have energised the grand old party. A re-energised Congress will be hoping for wins in the three poll-bound states.
“It’s a big victory. Through this victory, a new energy has emerged in the whole nation. BJP used to taunt us and say that ‘we will make Congress-mukt Bharat’. Now the truth is that it is BJP-mukt South India,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge quipped after the win.
The Karnataka win has brought cheers to the Congress and the rest of the Opposition, which is now realising that Modi is not invincible
And for the Congress in particular, it is a moment to reaffirm its old grandness but in its new 2.0 avatar.

(Deepika Bhan can be contacted at deepika.b@ians.in)

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