Karnataka poll results: Congress must get off high horse, engage with other Opposition parties on equal footing in 2019

Though many, buoyed by the earlier close call in Gujarat, billed Karnataka as a Modi vs Rahul fixture, the underlying question was slightly different. On test were two propositions: first, whether or not the Modi magic had waned for the BJP; second, more importantly for some, if Rahul Gandhi has acquired the stature to take on Narendra Modi as a challenger to the position of prime minister.

The answer to the second question is probably more unequivocal than the first. Hopefully, after these results, Rahul Gandhi and his advisors would have realised that it is easy to get carried away by applause from cheerleaders saying “he’s getting there, he’s getting there..” after some smart sound-bytes and cheeky tweets to fantasise about prospects of becoming prime minister, but ordinary voters are more discerning.

While the traction for Narendra Modi the ‘electoral phenomenon’ remains undeniably powerful, increasingly, he has to work much harder for neutralising the anti-incumbency of BJP state governments and supplementing the efforts of local leadership. Demonetisation is history now and GST the new normal, as this writer has been saying for quite sometime, but slower than expected delivery of economic goodies on the ground is certainly putting a visible strain on him. However, this could change dramatically if the economy picks up after a normal monsoon as predicted and the new social welfare schemes like Ujala, Ujjwala and universal healthcare start bearing fruit.

BJP workers celebrate in Bengaluru. PTI

BJP workers celebrate in Bengaluru. PTI

Much has been said about Congress plunging into an existential crisis in the event of a setback in Karnataka. That moment of reckoning is here. However, this is more likely to be the plight of certain sections of the media, left intellectuals and liberal elite who remain heavily invested in Congress, hoping against hope that 2014 was an aberration that will be set right in 2019. But, they are masters at reinventing themselves; so one hears their tune already changed from “Modi not invincible” to “BJP unstoppable”.

What Congress really needs to worry about is a meltdown among the old guard, who had so long reluctantly accepted the imposition of Rahul Gandhi as their leader. Many of these veterans know that after 2019, they will be well past their sell-by date and would be in the league of Yashwant Sinhas. This would hold true even for many Opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar for whom 2019 will, probably, be the last hurrah. It is very much a “now or never moment” for them or as Mamata Banerjee had said some years back in a clarion call against the CPM — “Ebar or Never”. It would be surprising if they continue to put their money behind a proven loser like Rahul Gandhi for much longer. If they do, it might turn out to be a case of “never ever” for many of them.

That brings us to another important constituency – the moneybags. It was for all to see there has been a spectacular recovery in Congress’ financial strength since the Gujarat campaign started. This was remarkable since the party by its own admission was running on overdraft since 2014. It remains to be seen how they shall distribute their largesse after the Karnataka rout.

The resources of the underwriters will get further stretched if the third and fourth (southern) front becomes a reality. In any case, it was already being said that with Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra out of its kitty, Karnataka was the last remaining ATM for Congress, which too will now go dry. Therefore, rather than an existential crisis, Congress is likely to face a financial crunch – unless they find some truly altruistic and selfless benefactor whether at home or abroad.

In such a scenario, if Congress has to remain in the reckoning for 2019 it would need a quick and drastic overhaul of strategy. They would need to get off from the high horse and start engaging with other Opposition parties as an equal partner rather than from an assumed position of pre-eminence.

However, humility alone may not be enough to close ranks with potential alliance partners. Congress will also need to revisit its narrative. How far Rahul Gandhi’s “Janeaudhari soft Hindu” avatar will find favour with parties who are stridently pro-minority communities is a matter of conjecture.

The task for BJP is relatively simpler. It has to run with the spoils of the Karnataka election results and race towards 2019 without any more distractions on the way. Therefore, get ready for an early Lok Sabha polls along with Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and, perhaps, Odisha as well.

Follow live updates on the Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018 here.


Updated Date: May 15, 2018 17:16 PM

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