The taste of success for Congress was even more satisfying with the exit poll that gave it a runaway victory – as against leading in a hung House – proved to be correct. The big win in Karnataka could not have come at a better time for Congress, which was fighting the perception that it has been dealt out of the 2024 Lok Sabha race.
The win will help boost Congress morale and restore confidence that BJP is unbeatable, bolstering the success in Himachal Pradesh last year. It will encourage Congress to pursue an electoral strategy offering welfare goodies and more subsidies rather than BJP’s focus on developing infrastructure and schemes intended to help specific agri-industries and sectors such as dairy or silk farming.
Congress’s resurrection, however, will be watched warily by opposition regional satraps who are not keen on ceding space to the party on the national centre stage and who want to be in the driver’s seat rather than mere allies. The electoral win in Karnataka helps Congress resuscitate its claim to being the fulcrum of any consolidation against BJP.
The party’s return to office in Karnataka will be seen as a good start for Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge who hails from the state. The party’s stalwarts Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar have also refurbished their reputations and it will be a relief for the party that allegations of corruption against Congress leaders did not work. It did seem that BJP was itself vulnerable on this count in view of cases involving some of its legislators even though the “40% CM or PayCM” allegations were not much discussed in the countryside.
Congress is almost certainly likely to pursue its strategy, evident on social media as well, of launching sharp and personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The combativeness between the two parties will be seen in Parliament where Congress can be expected to reiterate its opposition to key bills and disrupt proceedings. Relations between the main opposition and BJP, never particularly cordial, will further nosedive.
The next round of state elections is some time away. Congress is in office in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and its challenge lies in setting right internal fault lines in time. It faces a tough task in regaining Telangana where BJP has grown as an opposition to K Chandrashekhar Rao’s BRS. As in Karnataka, it will hope that BJP’s weaknesses in Madhya Pradesh will provide it with an opening. Mizoram will be the other states up for grabs.