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Posted at: May 16, 2018, 12:39 AM; last updated: May 16, 2018, 12:40 AM (IST)

Cong’s only hope are allies

The Karnataka results deliver the message that the Congress requires regional allies to keep the BJP at bay in the Lok Sabha elections. It also needs to build a credible narrative to connect with voters.

Aditi Tandon

Karnataka election results have fallen way short of the expectations of the Congress, which was confident of retaining power in the only southern state the BJP has ever ruled. If Congress' deal with Janata Dal-Secular fails to materialise for some reason, it would be left with governments in just three states -- Punjab, Puducherry and Mizoram.

This unabated electoral slide has Congress insiders worried as prospects of an early General Election loom large. More troubling is the timing of the defeat. It comes days after Congress President Rahul Gandhi declared that the party will win every election, starting Karnataka. Starting May 2014, when the BJP came to power at the Centre, the Congress has been on a losing spree in states. It won only Punjab and Puducherry on its own and squandered popular mandates in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya. Today, the BJP has governments in 21 states and Congress in three.

The Karnataka results deliver an unambiguous message — that the Congress would require regional allies to keep the BJP at bay in the next Lok Sabha elections. TMC president Mamata Banerjee lost no time, post Karnataka results, in hammering this point. "If the Congress had gone into an alliance with the JD(S), the result would have been very different," she said. The JDS had a pre-poll tie-up with the BSP in Karnataka, but the Congress fought separately, allowing its voters to be divided and enabling the BJP to emerge as the single largest party. It cannot afford similar positions in future.

"For the 2019 General Election, regional alliances would have to be forged and in states where the Congress is in direct contest with the BJP, the party would have to put its house in order by taking quick decisions and looking ready," Congress veteran KC Deo says. The BSP and SP recently showed that together they could defeat the BJP in the UP LS bypolls of Phulpur and Gorakhpur. Congress candidates fought separately and lost their deposits.

No wonder the Congress, in its 84th plenary, resolved to adopt a pragmatic approach for cooperation with like-minded parties to defeat the BJP-RSS in the 2019 polls. 

Another hidden message in Karnataka results is the Congress' misplaced political strategising. Former minister Veerappa Moily said he had warned Rahul Gandhi of the negative consequences of granting religious minority status to the Lingayats. "This boomeranged," Moily said, adding that Gandhi left the decision to state leadership. Lingayats saw the move as a ploy to divide the community and united behind BJP's chief-ministerial candidate BS Yedyurappa.

There is also a feeling that the party's anti-Dalit pitch against the BJP, its moves to impeach the Chief Justice and Rahul's temple and seminary visits didn't deliver as much as they were expected to.

A senior party leader saidthe Congress must build a credible narrative to connect emotionally with the voters in preparations for the next LS elections.

Many veterans also feel Rahul Gandhi should remain understated insofar as his ambitions go. The belief is that Gandhi's "Why can't I be PM?" pitch on poll eve could have damaged the Congress and needlessly troubled opposition parties which would like a more flexible approach to leadership issues to strike alliances in the next election. NCP chief Sharad Pawar even reacted to it, saying, "No one knows which party will stand where in the next Lok Sabha polls. We will have to wait and see."

Electorally, any further dilution of Congress' presence will only demoralise party cadres and further weaken its claim as the central pole of opposition unity for 2019. 

What role the Congress will play in the General Election will depend on how well it fares in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where it is pitted directly against the BJP with no regional allies to bank on. 

Karnataka has been a setback as it was the first state to go into elections after Rahul Gandhi became Congress President in December 2017. Even in Gujarat, the Congress finished a close second and the BJP won. The grand old party then claimed a moral victory. The question is, can it go on consoling itself with this phrase?



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