Things fall apart for Congress in Karnataka

The Congress in Karnataka is no longer a cohesive political party. It is an assemblage of individuals who win elections because of their personal clout and money power

Congress in Karntaka has witnessed dissentions, groupism and threat of resignations since the party formed the coalition government with the Janata Dal (Secular). DH file photo

On many occasions in the past, whenever the Congress was in a crisis at the national level, the Southern state of Karnataka helped it bounce back. It is a different story now. After it witnessed the worst ever performance in Karnataka in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the party’s state unit seems to be contributing to or reflecting the larger predicament that the party faces in the rest of the country.  
 
Karnataka contributed more than 20 per cent or nine of the 44 seats that the Congress won in 2014 elections. The party marginally improved its performance in 2019 by winning 52 seats but Karnataka’s contribution to it plummeted to just one seat (less than two per cent) out of total 28 in the state. Such a historical devastation is expected to bring some kind of turbulence in the party which was already licking its wounds after it failed to get re-elected in 2018 Assembly elections and was forced by the High Command to form a shaky coalition government with the Janata Dal (Secular).  
 
The party is expectedly, therefore, witnessing desertions and dissidence. That the party High Command has become much weaker after the Lok Sabha elections with its president, Rahul Gandhi, himself announcing his unwillingness to continue in the post. This has only made the matters worse.
 
However, it is incorrect to attribute all the problems that the Congress faces to its poor show in the Lok Sabha elections. Dissentions, groupism and threat of resignations have been witnessed since the party formed the coalition government. Just before the Lok Sabha elections, one of its MLAs, Umesh Yadav from Chicholi in Gulbarga, resigned. He subsequently contested the Lok Sabha elections as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee and defeated Congress veteran, Mallikarjun Kharge. This was the culmination of serious infighting going on in the Gulbarga unit of the party. 
The Congress has been seeing a gradual erosion of its support base in the state for a long time now. It has had no strong leader, it has lost its loyal social constituencies and it has no vision or at least an idiom which captures the imagination of the electorate. For a while it seemed that Siddaramaiah as chief minister between 2013 and 2018 was addressing these problems. However, Siddaramaiah followed an extremely narrow approach in his politics and development agenda. Both his politics and policies were biased in favour what has been called AHINDA, a Kannada acronym for the minorities, backward classes and the Dalits. 
 
While Siddaramaiah was hoping for a new social coalition loyal to the Congress to be formed through his political and developmental strategy, in reality it turned a large number of people away from the Congress, while failing to win any new AHINDA loyalty. Siddaramaiah’s antagonist relationship with the two powerful castes – the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas – led to further erosion of the support of these communities to the Congress. Post the Lok Sabha elections, Siddaramaiah’s continued prominence in the party is under serious challenge, but the fact remains that the party has no leader who can effectively replace Siddaramaiah.
 
The Congress in Karnataka is no longer a cohesive political party. It is an assemblage of individuals who win elections because of their personal clout and money power. The party has no control whatsoever on such leaders whereas they control the party, especially now that it stands very weak. The reported resignation of Vijayanagar MLA Anand Singh and Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi is a case in point. Interestingly, neither of them has followed the proper procedure of resigning from their position. This means either they are blackmailing the party on certain demands which need not just be a berth in the council ministers alone, or they are building the momentum for more MLAs to resign in order to pave the way for the BJP to form the Government. 
 
In case others follow suit, they can press for the acceptance of their resignation or else they can quietly withdraw. In any case, the point is that the Congress is finding it increasingly difficult to keep it flock together.

The Congress has responded to the poor show in the Lok Sabha elections by dissolving its state unit and is apparently planning some drastic restructuring. However, such restructuring does not hold much promise when the party does not have cadres or social bases or dynamic leadership to build them. For the time being it seems the prospects of the Congress would depend much on how the state unit of the BJP fares. If the BJP, which despite having a committed cadre and reasonably loyal social base, flounders for some reason beyond a point of rescue by its central leadership, the people will have no option but to choose the Congress. This wait can be a very long one for the Congress.
 
(A Narayana is an associate professor with Azim Premji University. He is a policy researcher and a political commentator) 

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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