The Congress’ vote base appears to be shrinking slowly or at least that is the worry within the party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, especially after the urban local body (ULB) poll results came out.
The Congress won the highest number of seats, but the rise of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of the extremist Islamic group Popular Front of India (PFI), has caused alarm
bells to ring. In the ULB polls, the SDPI has bagged 17 seats -11 in the communally sensitive Dakshina Kannada district and six in Chamarajanagar district.
This is a concern because the SDPI has eaten into the Congress’ vote base, especially the Muslim votes, sources point out. The SDPI won six seats in the Ullal City Municipal Council (CMC), four in the Bantwal Town Municipal Council and one in Puttur CMC.
These local bodies are in the polarised coastal region, where the BJP went aggressive on its Hindutva agenda, while the Congress resorted to soft Hindutva as a counter. The BJP nearly swept the coastal region at the cost of the Congress in the recent Assembly polls. “More than the SDPI winning, the bigger concern is us losing. We have to focus on strengthening the party and be careful while fielding candidates,” Mangaluru district incharge Minister U T Khader told DH.
The rise of the SDPI was not an “overt” concern, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Dinesh Gundu Rao said. “Congress isn’t dependent entirely on minority votes. We get votes from all quarters. If someone wants to vote for the SDPI, we can only hope they realise the benefit in voting for us instead,” he said.
Both Khader and Rao categorically ruled out joining hands with the SDPI in any urban local body. “There have been instances in the past where they’ve supported our candidates, but there was no alliance. There never will be,” Rao said.
The Congress fought the ULB polls without joining hands with its coalition partner JD(S). As a result, the JD(S) has not only strengthened its existing vote base, but also ate into Congress’ share. “It was bound to happen because we fought the polls alone,” Rao said, adding that the regional party ate into the Congress votes in parts of Central and North Karnataka.
These factors added to the Congress’ performance going down by two percentage points compared to the ULB polls results of 2013. The party had bagged 40% of the total seats then against the 38% now. The grand old party has won 982 seats, covering 105 ULBs, against 1,064 seats in 2013.