Congress kept its focus on local matters and its five guarantees while the BJP spoke only of Bajrangbali
As the Karnataka election results poured on Saturday, there was a dramatic change in the mood at the BJP headquarters. When the counting began in the morning, several party spokespersons were happily giving soundbites to the media, claiming that even if the party did not win, it won’t perform very poorly and may be able to form the government with the help of the Janata Dal (S). The usual caterers were also at the office providing snacks, tea, coffee. But the spokespersons gradually made themselves scarce when the BJP's tally began to slide and the Congress crossed 120. By noon, the caterer was asked to pack up and leave. A Delhi BJP leader present at the headquarters was heard saying, “chalo caterer gaya toh confirm ho gaya ki koi umeed nahi hai.”
With the Congress on course to forming the next government in Karnataka, the big buzz is whether party strategists pulled a fast one on the BJP with its election promise to ban the Bajrang Dal. Congress insiders said this was deliberate as it was clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders would grab this opportunity to give a communal twist to the campaign. And that’s what the Congress wanted as their surveys had shown that voters were wary of a communal pitch and wanted the election to be about pressing local issues. Barring stray clarifications and comments on the Bajrang Dal issue, the Congress kept its focus on local matters and its five guarantees while the BJP spoke only of Bajrangbali. The results, they said, have shown that the communal pitch did not make any impact except in coastal Karnataka where religious polarisation has worked for the BJP in the past. But even here, the BJP lost considerable ground even though it registered a sweep in Udupi and Uttara Kannada.
Once it became clear that the Congress was comfortably ahead in the Karnataka electoral race, party leaders and cadres lost no time in giving all credit to Rahul Gandhi for the victory. But they privately acknowledged that party president Mallikarjun Kharge’s role could not be denied. Despite his advancing years, he kept a punishing schedule during the poll campaign. The fact that Mr Kharge is from the state proved to be a huge plus as he managed to strike a chord with the people and kept the focus on local issues. There is no doubt that the result has strengthened Mr Kharge’s position within the party. It will be easier for him to go ahead with the long overdue constitution of his team. Congress insiders said a big organisational reshuffle can now be expected within the next few weeks. But before that, Mr Kharge faces the onerous task of resolving the ongoing turf war in poll-bound Rajasthan.
There was all-round surprise when the Congress party’s election manifesto for Karnataka contained a reference to the working conditions of the growing number of gig workers in the workforce with a promise to set up a welfare board for them with a seed fund of Rs.3,000 crore. Gig workers have been on the Congress agenda ever since Rahul Gandhi interacted with some of them during the Bharat Jodo Yatra and he learned about their plight as many of them were driven to take up this work despite their high educational qualifications because there were no jobs in the market. Furthermore, an input given by former Rajya Sabha TV head Gurdeep Sappal, currently a coordinator in Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge’s office, ensured that gig workers found a special mention in the manifesto. Sappal pointed out that a large number of workers who lost their jobs when Rajya Sabha TV was closed down went on to become gig workers for want of better job opportunities. Rahul Gandhi followed up the manifesto promise by taking a ride with a gig worker during his Karnataka election campaign to send out a message that the Congress is serious about their demands for better job security. The results show it was a smart move.
Now that the Karnataka election is over, political parties have started focussing on the year-end assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. While the Ashok Gehlot-Sachin Pilot tug-a-war in Rajasthan is continuing, the Congress has been quick off the mark in Madhya Pradesh where there is increasing talk of attrition from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ranks. Last week, Deepak Joshi, son of former chief minister and senior BJP leader Kailash Joshi, crossed over to the Congress. There is a strong buzz in Madhya Pradesh that this is only the beginning and that as in the case of Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, several other leaders are planning to leave the party. Anoop Mishra, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s nephew, is said to be in talks with state Congress chief Kamal Nath and could soon switch sides. Other names doing the rounds include Ajay Vishnoi ,Satyanarayan Sattan, Bhanwar Shekhawat. BJP leaders who had to make way for Jyotiraditya Scindia’s supporters are particularly upset as they are unlikely to get tickets in the coming elections. The churn in the BJP is expected to intensify as polls draw close.