Karnataka win gives Cong pole position in oppn unity plans

The Congress expects that the Karnataka election results will make the parties like SP, AAP and TMC swallow their pride and let the grand old party spearhead the opposition charge against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2024 Lok Sabha election,  writes Amit Agnihotri

The Karnataka win has given a boost to the Congress’ plans of forging opposition unity ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections but it may not be easy for the grand old party to bring the like-minded regional parties together.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge had been leading a group of 19 like-minded parties during the Budget Session of Parliament to counter the BJP-led Centre over the Adani-Hindenburg and other issues.

To take that unity forward, Kharge invited the like-minded parties for the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka chief minister K Siddaramaiah on May 20. These included the NCP, Shiv Sena UBT, RJD, JD-U, DMK, CPI-M, CPI, RSP, Kerala Congress, IUML, JMM and TMC.

Besides JD-U leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren of the JMM, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin of the DMK, Shiv Sena UBT MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah attended the event.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was invited but skipped the event. BRS, BJD, AIADMK, AIMIM, YSRCP, TDP and AAP were not invited. Though Kharge had earlier spoken to AAP founder and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who had been called by the CBI for questioning in the liquor scam, the Delhi unit has been opposed to having any alliance with the AAP.

Kejriwal, who is opposed to a central government’s move to have control over transfer of officers, is trying to rally the regional parties to take on the BJP and defeat the central Ordinance during the coming Monsoon Session of Parliament.

The Congress said it will discuss the issue with like-minded parties and its Delhi and Punjab units before deciding whether or not to support the central Ordinance.

Ex-Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken strongly opposed the idea to back Kejriwal saying the AAP founder had supported the BJP over removal of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir and had advocated that Bharat Ratna be taken away from former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In the past, Kejriwal has been severely critical of both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and had attacked the Congress saying the grand old party was not able to take on the BJP. The TMC and the SP too had similar views. Many in the Congress see this as an impediment towards a larger opposition unity.

Besides the ordinance, the opposition parties also found a common ground in boycotting the inauguration of the new Parliament building by PM Modi saying the job should have been done by President Droupadi Murmu and slammed the PM for not inviting the President for the ceremony on May 28.

A joint statement of opposition parties said there was no point in attending the inauguration of the new Parliament building when the BJP had sucked the soul out of the institution by silencing the voice of the opposition. Rahul Gandhi said Parliament is not built by “bricks of ego” but through constitutional values.

Nitish Kumar’s role

Over the past weeks, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejaswi Yadav have been interacting with Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal to push the opposition unity plan keeping the Congress in the loop.

After the Karnataka results, Nitish Kumar met Congress chief Kharge and former chief Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, days after he met Kejriwal, to fix a date for a big opposition meeting which was being planned before the Karnataka polls. Senior Congress leader KC Venugopal and JD(U) chief Lallan Singh also attended the meeting. Tejashwi Yadav had to drop out at the last minute as he was unwell.

After the meeting, Kharge said: “Now the country will be united, ‘The strength of democracy’ is our message! Mr. @RahulGandhi and we discussed the current political situation with the Chief Minister of Bihar, Mr. @NitishKumar today and took forward the process of giving a new direction to the country”.

Earlier, Nitish Kumar had also met BJD leader and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who supports the BJP on specific issues.

Nitish Kumar had met Arvind Kejriwal and extended his “complete support” in the ongoing face-off with the Centre over the control of the bureaucrats working in the national capital.

During their meeting, both Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee discussed a strategy to put up a single opposition candidate against the BJP across the country in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

“Strong regional parties should take on the BJP in 2024 on their home turfs and in turn, they would back the Congress in the 200-odd seats where the two national parties are in direct contest,” Banerjee said. “If you want some good thing, then you have to sacrifice yourself also in some areas,” she said.

It was the West Bengal Chief Minister who had suggested the idea of a mega meeting in Patna. “Bihar was a symbol of change in the Centre when JP’s (Jayaprakash Narayan) movement started. If we have an all-party meeting in Bihar, we can then decide where we have to go next,” Banerjee said.

The Congress felt that the Karnataka win will force the regional parties like TMC and AAP to have a rethink over their reservations to the issue of grand old party playing the anchor’s role in forging any opposition unity for 2024.

“The Congress has been trying to take other parties along and forge a national anti-BJP front for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The Karnataka results will send a strong message to the regional parties, including the TMC and AAP, and compel them to align with the grand old party for the bigger 2024 political battle,” AICC leader Vamshi Chand Reddy said.

Kharge also told the Congress workers, “If you want to protect democracy in the country you have to win the 2024 battle.”

The Congress described the Karnataka win as a defeat of PM Modi, who led the BJP’s campaign in the southern state and became the face of the saffron party.

In a positive gesture, the SP, AAP and TMC congratulated the Congress over the Karnataka win while Mamata Banerjee was quick to state that the Karnataka results marked the beginning of the end of the BJP and that she was ready to support the Congress wherever the TMC was not strong. Akhilesh Yadav too had expressed similar views.

2023 polls

Before 2024, the Congress hopes the Karnataka results will have an impact in the coming four assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana this year. But in three out of these four states, the Congress fights directly with the BJP. In Telangana the grand old party fights the ruling BRS.

“The people of Karnataka have indicated which way the wind is blowing. The results in Karnataka would have an impact not only in the coming assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, they will also strengthen our claim of being the only credible national alternative to the BJP,” Vamshi Chand Reddy said.

“See, the PM Modi-led BJP had been trying for a Congress-free Bharat since 2014. But now the people of Karnataka have given a BJP-free south India. The five southern states including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have 129 Lok Sabha seats. So that is a straight loss to the BJP which has been badly defeated in Karnataka. Over the coming months, the BJP’s claims of being the largest political party in the world and a pan India party will be exposed,” said Reddy.

“In comparison, the Congress vs BJP type of contest will gain ground in public discussion. After we take MP from them which they stole from us in 2020 and retain Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the Congress’ nationwide presence will get projected in public mind and will play a role in ensuring the BJP’s defeat in the 2024 national polls,” he said.

The Congress leader acknowledged that Kharge’s background as a Dalit leader who could reach the top party post helped the grand old party project its democratic credentials and resonated with the marginal sections of Karnataka.

“It will also send a message across the country. Plus, due to his personality, all opposition leaders find it easy to associate with Khargeji,” he said.

Reddy further mentioned that the pro-people promise the Congress made in Karnataka convinced the voters, adding that a detailed common minimum programme would have to be worked out along with the other parties to set the agenda for the 2024 national elections.

The AICC functionary acknowledged that while the people were tilting towards the Congress again, the grand old party would have to put its house in order and regroup.

“The Karnataka elections took precedence over the party reforms we had approved during the Plenary Session in February. Now, there will be several changes in the organization and everything will be geared towards the larger 2024 battle,” Reddy added.