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The Congress Way: Has Congress found its panacea in the Karnataka election?

Madhav Gupta

5 Jul 2023

Trends and lessons from the recent Karnataka Election and its broader implications

The Congress Way: Has Congress found its panacea in the Karnataka election?

-Madhav Gupta

The Congress made a comeback in Karnataka after securing the thumping victory by winning 136 seats with a 42.9% vote share. Meanwhile, the BJP could only secure 66 seats with a 36% vote share. Karnataka is the sixth largest state in the country in terms of land area and fifth largest in terms of GSDP and has one of the highest economic growth. Winning Karnataka means that the gateway to the south of BJP has been demolished by the GOP. Many leaders have termed this victory as the start of the fall for the BJP and a moral booster for the opposition in the 2024 lok sabha polls. Interestingly, in 2018 just before the 2019 lok sabha polls, Congress secured victory in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh, the Hindi-speaking states where its footprint of influence was shrinking after the 2014 general elections. But the results of the 2019 general elections came the opposite, with Congress winning only three Lok Sabha seats from these three states out of 65.

But what is interesting is the strategy adopted by the GOP in the 2018 and 2023 assembly elections. The 2018 assembly elections were fought on mainly the following factors:-

  1. Rafael issue- It was the most controversial issue brought up by the Congress. The BJP was encircled by the whole opposition due to the defence deal of Rafael aircraft. It was alleged that BJP was favouring Anil Ambani through this deal, although the Supreme Court gave the clean chit to the government in this deal.

  2. Unemployment- The elections were surrounded by the leaked data from periodic labour force survey, which revealed that unemployment was at 45 years high from July 2017 to June 2018. 

  3. Demonetisation- The famous or infamous declaration of demonetising the 500 and 1000 rupees note created a lot of ruckus and chaos throughout the country and put the banking and unorganised sectors under much stress.

  4. GST- The implementation of GDP ended the various types of indirect taxes and brought it all under the ambit of a single tax which is GST. The initial complication and improper implementation of GST puzzled many businessmen and CAs in the country.

  5. Economy- The GDP growth was constantly declining in the country after the year 2016, and this gave the Congress party a major issue to bank on.

  6. Loan waive of farmers - a significant chunk of the vote comes from the farmer community. Congress did not ignore this and promised to waive farm loans in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh in 2018.

Now, this time they adopted a different strategy by focusing and gambling on the local issues and consolidating its old vote bank, which swept away to the BJP. They are now concentrating on SC, ST and OBCs by demanding caste-based reservation. In fact, in Rajasthan, the PCC chief has declared to conduct a caste-based census and provide the reservation based on the percentage of the total population. Besides, this time they are targeting women and government employees majorly by slashing the gas cylinder price to 500 rs. and providing free electricity using the Kejriwal model and implementing OPS to woo the government employees.

Nonetheless, it would be wrong to say that Congress has won Karnataka by only promises in their manifesto. This time, the party adopted a different strategy to fight the election.

  1. Sunil Kanungolu- A man often compared to Prashant Kishore. Hailing from Karnataka, he joined the Congress party and used all his techniques, tools and experiences to strategise the election campaign and its manifesto. 

  2. AHINDA- The term 'AHINDA' is a local one comprising of minorities, backward castes and Dalits. This time Congress got 11% more backward caste votes than BJP in Karnataka.

  3. Vokaliggas and Lingayats- By making DK Shivkumar as the PCC chief, the Congress garnered the support of the vokaliggas and Lingayat community, which accounts for the largest community in Karnataka, shifted its allegiance to the Congress after BS Yediurappa, the tallest lingayat leader was removed from the post of the chief minister by the BJP.

  4. Joint leadership- DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah fought the election, setting aside all the differences they had for the chief minister post. This gave a strong message from the voters to the booth workers regarding unity.

  5. Bharat Jodo Yatra- The route of the BJY was strategically decided to consolidate the votes of the backward class and Muslims in favour of the Congress party. The strike rate of the impact of BJY was 66% which damaged the vote share of JD(S) by 5%.

The central leadership of the Congress is charged up by this victory since Karnataka is the eighth largest state in India and contributes about 8.2% of India's GDP, and is considered a gateway for the BJP to enter the south. Besides Karnataka, the Congress has also won Himachal Pradesh this year. 


After the completion of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the assembly elections of Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Karnataka happened, out of which Karnataka was the only state through 

which the Yatra passed. It was anticipated that the Yatra would boost the Congress's local cadre and rebrand the image of Rahul Gandhi. As far as the image of Rahul Gandhi is concerned, the popularity of Rahul has undoubtedly increased in all the surveys conducted after the Yatra. Before the 2019 elections, the popularity of Rahul Gandhi was at 24%, which goes up to 27% now, with the Lok Sabha election still a year later. While the popularity of Modi is still undeterred in most of the surveys, the voters still chose to vote against BJP in the state assembly election. The implication of this can be the better understanding of the voters to select the issue to vote upon as they vote against the BJP in the state elections but vote in favour of the BJP in the general election. The traditional approach of politics where the leader goes to the public to seek their support has been rejuvenated, with Rahul Gandhi taking the reins in his own hands for the first time in this major public outreach. The critical aspect of focus was the Congress social media team which aggressively campaigned to polish the image of Rahul Gandhi as a mass leader and a leader pushing his own self-styled politics. Special pages of Bharat Jodo Yatra were formed on various social media handle solely working to give a befitting reply to the BJP and its sponsored trolls. The local cadre got a boost after this Yatra as many of the leaders who became inactive for a long time became a part of this Yatra. New energy was transferred to all the levels of the organisations. Besides this, leaders from other opposition parties also joined the Yatra, such as Aditya Thackrey in Maharashtra, MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu, Mehbooba Mufti in Kashmir, etc. Interestingly, the ambiguity of Rahul Gandhi is still resurfacing, with he and Congress trying soft Hindutva in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Hindi heartland has turned into the land of pure Hindutva politics after 2014, and Congress, despite trying to project itself as the harbinger of secularism in the country, failed to touch double-digit lok sabha seats in the two consecutive general elections. The attempt at soft Hindutva by Rahul Gandhi and Congress emerges as the general elections approach. But this time, besides soft Hindutva, they are also focussing on the SC, ST and OBCs. Rahul is trying and hoping to become the Robinhood of the backward class, but the fight will become interesting as the PM himself comes from the OBC background.


With the Lok sabha election approaching in less than a year, the party is now focussing on the Karnataka strategy and Rajasthan model to fight this year's upcoming assembly elections. Vanquishing the BJP in South India and increasing its presence in Telangana is the first step of the Congress to capture the whole of South India. In Telangana, the party made Revanth Reddy as its PCC chief. Interestingly, Revanth Reddy started his political journey by affiliating himself with the ABVP and moving to TRS before switching to Congress. This gave a strong message to all the leaders of Congress that prominent positions would only be provided based on quality rather than primarily considering the leaders' experiences. In the 2018 assembly elections in Telangana, the party had a 28% vote share, becoming the second-largest party in the state. Being separated from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana is a new state that only saw the regime of K. Chandrashekhar Rao's TRS/BRS.

Congress is very well aware that in order to reclaim Andhra Pradesh, they need to win Telangana to stretch its influence to the other neighbouring states. It aims for a domino effect. The second step is to retain Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, which will give a strong message to all the parties of the nation, especially the opposition, not to belittle Congress's role in the Joint opposition alliance. Rajasthan has a tradition of alternating government every five years, but this time the situation seems to be different as various welfare populist schemes of the Gehlot government are creating an impact on the poor, especially the health insurance scheme. Rajasthan has also passed the 'Right to Health' bill, becoming the first state in the country to pass this bill. All these measures have made it challenging for the BJP to create a wave of anti-incumbency in the state. As of now, all the surveys show that more than 40% of people in the state are satisfied with the current government's performance and that less than 30% of people are not happy with the performance. In Chattisgarh, the BJP has no strong face except Raman Singh, who previously served as the state's Chief Minister. This situation automatically makes Congress strong as it has strong leadership and organisation in the state.

The sandwiched state between Rajasthan and Chattisgarh is Madhya Pradesh which is facing an anti-incumbency wave- people want a change. After stepping down from the CM post after Scindia's incident, Kamal Nath has been revamping the organisation and cadre. The fight in Madhya Pradesh has become BJP vs Kamal Nath. Haryana is another Hindi belt state in which the party has a strong cadre. The feud between Kumari Selja and Bhupendra Hudda is not a secret in Haryana, but Mr Hudda wins round one as the Gandhi family gave the reins to Mr Hudda in the state affairs. Being Chief Minister of Haryana for ten years in the past, the Gandhi family is expecting him to deliver the result of the assembly election scheduled in 2024 in favour of the Congress party. With the win in all these states, the Congress is expecting to increase its influence again in the UP and the northeast. 

In the last two general elections, the party won 44 and 52 seats failing to claim the post of leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. The party came second in 196 in the 2019 elections. Most of these seats had a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress. The party needs to focus on these seats and should focus on micro arithmetic in every constituency in order to win at least 150 seats in the upcoming lok sabha elections. 


This piece expresses the opinions of the author alone and not S.C.A.R.

S.C.A.R neither endorses nor discredits any claims or opinions made in this write-up.

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