But the glass is half empty, what with their star campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having led from the front the party’s bid for power. The Congress, for its part, is back to square one: to the drawing board, if not to the intensive care unit, of the political polyclinic where it has found itself since 2014.
So it’s a precariously hung house in Karnataka. What does the mandate mean for individual contestants in the key southern state? With the largest legislative presence in the new assembly, the BJP can draw solace from the outcome after its shock defeats in by-polls in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP, of course, was high on resources and hope, having entered the field in the avatar that had won it the 2008 assembly election under BS Yeddyurappa. The three-way saffron split that helped the Congress in 2013 wasn’t there. Also, home was the prodigals from Bellary with their money bags in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region.
Yet, it’s a case of so near yet so far for the saffron formation.
The fallout: the JD(S) that came third is close to grabbing the gold. To obviate a repeat of Goa and Manipur, the Congress moved fast to announce support for Deve Gowda’s party. It saved and bolstered in the process its national objective of building an anti-BJP front for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Politics essentially is about turning adversity into an opportunity. The rearguard Congress initiative brought to the fore its willingness to share power with regional forces. In presenting Karnataka as a microcosm of its proposed pan-India model to defeat the BJP, it returned to the Gowda clan more than what they had bargained for by supporting its candidates in two by-polls in 2017 in Karnataka. “It’s like SP-BSP coming together in UP,” conceded a BJP insider: “It has consequences for us… the national Opposition won’t be demoralised even if we manage a regime through Raj Bhawan.”
But not all that the Congress intends doing is about Opposition unity. It desperately needed a share in power — formal or informal — to avoid the resource crunch the BJP envisioned for it by threatening to flatten it to a two-and-half state rump confined to Punjab, Puducherry and Mizoram.
The PM, in fact, had declared the Congress will be a “Punjab-Puducherry Parivar” party after the Karnataka polls. That may not happen if the governor, who hails from Gujarat, recognises the post-election Congress-JD(S) tie-up capable of delivering a stable regime.
In the other event, there’ll be confrontation reminiscent of TDP leader, NT Rama Rao, lining up his MLAs in the Rashtrapati Bhawan to negate the Indira Gandhi-led Centre’s toppling game in Andhra Pradesh in 1984. As the numbers do not add up for the BJP, the governor will open the floodgates for horse trading if he gives it the first shot at power.
Be that as it may, the Congress has only itself to blame for its poor performance. It obviously was complacent and over-reliant on Siddaramaiah’s much-flaunted AHINDA social coalition of Dalits, minorities and OBCs. The alliance didn’t work on the ground. It consolidated instead the elite backward castes — the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats — behind the JD(S) in Old Mysuru and the BJP in Central and North Karnataka respectively.
The below-par show is disconcerting also as the Congress — unlike in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar— had a semblance of a social alliance in Karnataka. It didn’t work because it failed to inclusively project faces — other than Siddaramaiah, who is an OBC Kurba — for direct identification with other castes. It had none among the pro-BJP Madiga Dalits or from the Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities to match the appeal of Gowda and Yeddyurappa.
Let alone broadening the AHINDA base to AHINDA-Linga, the Congress could not conserve the original caste coalition. The Lingayat mutts were divided perhaps over the promised minority status, not as much the community. The average Lingayat followed the lure of regaining pre-eminence in the state’s polity through a CM from the fraternity.
A politician familiar with the political landscape beyond the Vindhyas had a sociological take the Congress might benefit studying: old and neo-forward castes (Karnataka’s Vokkaliga-Lingayat or Andhra Pradesh’s Reddy-Kamma) are resurgent, and in a ‘counter-revolutionary’ faceoff with OBCs who are disoriented and divided. Owing to class and sub-caste tussles, they aren’t socially coalesced the way they were in the days of Charan Singh or VP Singh who enforced Mandal for OBC quotas. It’s about time the Congress stopped viewing them as a monolith.