Karnataka elections: An existential battle for Congress

New Delhi, Delhi, India May 02, 2018, 03.04 PM(IST) Written By: Puniti Pandey

File photo: Congress President Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at an election rally. Photograph:( DNA )

Karnataka, which is heading for polls on May 12, is the only big state which left with Congress.

Once a pan-India party, the Congress's presence in the country is now reduced to just three states (Punjab, Mizoram and Karnataka) and one Union Territory (Puducherry).

The first major jolt to the party came in the form of defeat at the hands of Narendra Modi-led BJP in the general elections in 2014. Since then, Congress has been experiencing a series of failures. After losing the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it has failed to stand against the might of Modi-Shah combine. The party lost electoral battles in Delhi, Assam, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Tripura, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh etc.

The repeated loss of Congress has already put a question mark on the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. A loss again will translate into Rahul's inefficiency against the Modi-Shah might.

If the Congress is able to win the Assembly elections in Karnataka, the victory will certainly be attributed to current chief minister Siddaramaiah's strong reputation in the party. Siddaramaiah belongs to Kuruba (shepherd) caste but enjoys a status of a strong leader in the state. His name and political tenure has been out of any controversy. The various schemes and measures favouring Dalits and minorities that he introduced may also prove profitable to him.

The BJP contemplated the importance Siddaramaiah holds in the state politics as compared to its chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa and therefore fielded PM Modi and his "development agenda" against the fight with Congress.

A victory for the Congress in Karnataka will also decide the role that it will play in the potential grand alliance against the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had hosted a dinner party for the leaders of 20 opposition parties at her Janpath residence on March 13. The party was apparently hosted to devise a collective plan to root out the BJP-led NDA in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress said that the party meeting was called to promote "amity and friendship".

Quoting Tejashwi Yadav and Sharad Yadav, a news report said that the meeting was the first step towards a comprehensive alliance of the 2019 elections.

In a bid to win over the hearts (and the votes) of the people of Karnataka, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is not leaving any stone unturned. He is also resorting to the Hindutva card.

Rahul visited around 25 temples in Gujarat during the election campaign in the state. Similar religious symbolism is seen in his recent visits to temples and dargahs in Karnataka.

Also, to woo the Lingayat community in the state, the Karnataka government granted minority status to them in March. Lingayats, the single largest community in Karnataka constitutes 17 per cent of the vote share and plays an important role in about 100 of the state's 224 seats.

A win in the state will also have a significant impact for Congress in the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram, and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The election in Karnataka is therefore seen as an existential battle for the Congress party which has almost vanished from the map of India.