Congress banks on its Bhagyas, gambles to retain power

Bhagya schemes

Since 1985, no party has retained power for a second consecutive term. And the ruling Congress is earnestly trying every trick in the book to break this jinx.

In the 2013 elections, the Congress rode to power on the back of the Rs 35,000 crore illegal mining scam. Five years later, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has created a record by becoming the first CM in four decades to complete a full five-year term.

Some might argue that the Congress has the home advantage, with a few data points in its favour — political and administrative stability, Karnataka outracing other states in some sectors and a slew of populist schemes.

Sample this: welfare schemes rolled out by the Siddaramaiah administration — 18 to be precise, catering to below poverty line (BPL) households, farmers, minorities, backward classes and Dalits — have 5.87 crore beneficiaries, according to government data. These include the flagship Bhagya schemes, Indira Canteens and free laptops for college students.

The run-up to this election witnessed the Congress making a sincere effort towards becoming a cadre-based party at the grassroots level.

“We are trying to become an organised political party. Earlier, it was just about histrionic speeches. Now, we have booth-committees and we did the Mane Manege Congress campaign. Never before did we go door-to-door six months before an election. There are 4.5 lakh, booth-level workers,” Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president G Parameshwara told DH in a recent interview.  

The lack of a strong state-level leadership in the BJP also became an advantage to the Congress. While state BJP leaders accused the government of corruption, they did not sustain the narrative. This line of attack gained steam again only with the arrival of BJP chief Amit Shah. That the BJP had to ‘depend’ on its central leaders gave ammunition to the Congress.

However, the Congress finds itself on shaky grounds thanks to some risky gambles that were made in the desperation to retain power. There is a sense of fear within the party that the decision to accord ‘religious minority’ status to the Lingayat community could backfire, especially with the narrative that the Congress divided the society. Lingayats, who are identified as BJP supporters, can influence results in an estimated 123 of 224 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka.

The Congress was also under pressure from within to implement the Justice A J Sadashiva Commission report on internal reservation for Dalits. This demand remained unmet.   

It was also uncharacteristic of a national party like the Congress to rake up regional pride ahead of the elections. Siddaramaiah led the campaign against Hindi imposition, removing Hindi signboards from Bengaluru Metro stations.

Then, the state government approved a separate state flag to assert Karnataka’s identity. Siddaramaiah also started the ‘North vs South’ debate, alleging that southern states got a raw deal despite achieving progress.

Dangerously close to the May 12 polls, the party is having to tackle in-fighting and rebellion in at least 30 constituencies. This was a result of the party bungling up an allocation of tickets and several leaders publicly expressing anger and disappointment.

That there were factions within the party leadership came to the fore during the ticket allocation process. Apparently, veterans Mallikarjun Kharge and M Veerappa Moily were upset. In a stinging tweet, Moily alleged that the ticket process was rigged. However, he later disowned the tweet.

The Congress is also striving hard to keep its morale intact in the wake of Siddaramaiah’s decision to contest from two seats. Senior leaders were against this, warning the chief minister that it could demonstrate the vulnerability.

Comments (+)