Karnataka's fate in the hands of Congress

A detailed analysis of the Karnataka state election 2023


Business Today

G Sai Prashanth

The intensive, high-stakes battle between the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Congress comes to an end with the INC (Indian National Congress) emerging as the victor. With 135 seats out of the 224, the Congress has received a much-needed boost in order to position itself as the main challenger to the BJP in the centre, which won only 66 seats in the Karnataka state election. In contrast, the BJP no longer holds power in any of India's five southern states as a result of its exit from Karnataka. When we talk about the Congress' victory in the state elections in Karnataka, we need to look into the motivating forces—both good and bad—that led to it. How did Congress obtain such a large majority in the state election? Will this victory in the state election of Karnataka be a step towards the triumph of the Indian National Congress in the national elections of 2024?

The factors behind the thumping victory of the Congress

After a record-breaking 34 years in terms of both seats won and votes cast, Congress has won the state election in Karnataka. Is it the disgust of the people towards the corrupt BJP government captured by the phrase "40%sarkara" that resulted in the victory of the Congress? Hate politics was the major factor that caused the BJP to lose the crucial polls in Karnataka. These are some of the negative motivating factors that resulted in the victory of the Congress. Two major factors that gave Congress the boost it needed to win the elections were the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which had a huge impact on the state of Karnataka, and the unexpected flashpoint: milk. The central government attempted to push the milk corporation Amul, based in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat, into Karnataka, which has its own alternative and well established brand, Nandhini. The Congress linked this issue to a matter of protecting local pride.

Congress won the state election thanks to strong local leadership provided by Siddaramaiah and D. K. Shivakumar. Another boost was Mr. Mallikarjun Kharge, a tall Dalit leader who provided a rainbow coalition. Effective and successful campaigning was also an important influencing factor. In the absence of local state-level BJP leaders, Prime Minister Modi carried the BJP's campaign almost entirely by himself, but the election outcome makes clear the limits of his aura and popularity. We could observe in Karnataka how the divisive electoral narrative had little or no appeal among voters. The most vulnerable, poorer sections were also being influenced by other socioeconomic factors to vote against the BJP.

The widespread confusion following the victory

After the party's victory in the state elections, confusion replaced the state of celebration due to the fight that brewed over the Chief Minister’s chair. The power struggles and verbal scuffles between two factions of the INC have damaged the party's reputation. Siddaramaiah and D. K. Shivakumar refused to give up their fight to become the Chief Ministers of the state of Karnataka, despite Congress's efforts to mediate their differences. Since 2013, the two leaders have been at odds over a number of issues, including the separate lingayat religion issue in 2019. Siddaramaiah, a member of the shepherd community known as the Kuruvas, has served as the Chief Minister of Karnataka from 2013 to 2017, and D. K. Shivakumar, a member of the Gowda community, has played a significant role in both the Congress party and the state of Karnataka.

The tilted scales

The Congress party never presented a Chief Ministerial face, and any rivalry or infighting during the election campaign was put to rest with the two leaders campaigning together. The scales seemed to be tilted in favor of Siddaramaiah, who presided over the Karnataka government for the entirety of a 5-year term, despite campaigns like #DKforCM and the widespread support for D. K. Shivakumar. The eight-term MLA Siddaramaiah emphasized that he could gain the support of dalit minority groups and members of backward castes, which would ensure maximum seats in Lok Sabha polls for him. But Siddaramaiah has struggled lately to find a safe seat for himself where rivalries between Kurubas and groups like the Vokkaligas, tribal Valmikis, and Dalits do not improve his prospects despite being a mass leader with support spread across constituencies in Karnataka. Will the Congress government prove to be a good, populist one rather than a corrupt one with conflicting political narratives towards its constituents? Siddaramaiah was formally announced as the new chief minister of Karnataka by the Congress party on May 18, 2023, with D.K. Shivakumar serving as his deputy, ending days of rumors and uncertainty. This comes days after frantic negotiations in the capital following the Congress' significant victory in the southern state. On May 20, Bengaluru hosted the two leaders' swearing-in ceremony.

Major concern about the electoral laws.

Shivakumar, a leading candidate for the position of chief minister and the current vice chief minister of karnataka, was detained by the ED (Enforcement Directorate) in connection with the money laundering case in September 2019 and released on bail a month later. In this year's election, the share of winning candidates with pending criminal cases jumped from 35% in 2018 to 55% according to ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms). As it stands, the electoral law has not been able to bar criminal elements from the state legislature. This raises serious concerns about the involvement of the criminal element in the elections and the laws of electoral policy. The electoral laws need to be strengthened because there are many loopholes that a politician can use to get away. The electoral law needs to be more stringent in order to hold politicians accountable. Call for better governance Given that the cost of living is obviously rising daily, the price rise has become a significant concern. We can infer from the election's outcome that the public wants a change for the better. The state has been doing very well in reducing unemployment, according to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), but the labor participation rate (LPR) in the state is quite low, according to another CMIE report. Nowadays, all people want is an effective government that is expected to fulfill the needs of the people and provide enough means to feed their families. The BJP has now suffered a heavy loss as it lost control over one of India's richest states, which would have brought in a sizable amount of money for them. The victory in the state of Karnataka has given the old party a much-needed boost, and the Congress now holds a significant position in the centre. And regarding the fate of Karnataka, we must look to Siddaramaiah, the former finance minister with the credit of presenting over 14 state budgets, for the promises that the Congress has made in the state. To the people the INC's five guarantees sound more like freebies than guarantees. The promised social protection is definitely needed, but the former part is troublesome.

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