Wresting power from the BJP will be a morale booster for the Congress, key for reviving its electoral fortunes and strengthen its credentials as the main opposition player against the saffron party, ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
By ensuring a win in Karnataka, the party also wants to bounce back after the recent losses in the North-Eastern states and give it a momentum of sorts to take on the battle-ready election machinery of the BJP, later this year in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
The Congress by-and-large focused on local issues and its campaign also was run by its state leaders initially. However, its central leaders such as AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra pitched in subsequently. This poll is also a prestige battle in a way for the grand old party with a Kannadiga Mallikarjun Kharge, who hails from Kalaburagi district, at its helm, as the national president.
The Congress that entered the campaign with the challenge of keeping at bay factionalism, especially between the camps of its two Chief Ministerial aspirants — Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar — who were often seen to be engaging in political one-upmanship, it somehow managed to put an united front and ensured that no rift came out in open and derail its prospects.
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Though the campaign initially centered around its state leaders like Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar, Kharge gave it momentum and thereby prepared the pitch for the party’s top leaders Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to join in.
The brother-sister duo extensively travelled across the state, challenging the BJP’s campaign machinery led by Modi, countering and challenging him on various issues, most importantly on the issue of corruption, while promising to provide a better alternative for Karnataka. Their mother and former AICC president Sonia Gandhi addressed a party rally in Hubballi on Saturday.
The party held 99 public meetings and 33 roadshows by its top state and central leaders.
The Congress has set a target of winning 150 seats, and has been urging voters to ensure that it gets an absolute majority, so that BJP doesn’t ”steal” the mandate by managing defections of other party legislators and ”manufacture” a majority in its favour.
The Congress’s main issues to attack the BJP government in this election was over corruption/ scams and the charge of 40 per cent commission, coupled with the Adani issue.
While extensively highlighting its five key poll ‘guarantees’, the party tried to inform the people about its charge against the BJP government of having ”failed in fulfilling 90 per cent of its promises” made in its 2018 manifesto.
The Congress’ has promised to implement ‘guarantees’ — 200 units of free power to all households (Gruha Jyoti), Rs 2,000 monthly assistance to the woman head of every family (Gruha Lakshmi), 10 kg of rice free to every member of a BPL household (Anna Bhagya), Rs 3,000 every month for graduate youth and Rs 1,500 for diploma holders (both in the age group of 18-25) for two years (YuvaNidhi), and free travel for women in public transport buses (Shakti), on the very first day, on coming to power in the state.
At a time when it seemed like all was going well, the Congress itself waded into controversies with Siddaramaiah’s statement that ”there’s already a Lingayat CM who is the most corrupt,” which the BJP turned into an ”insult” to the entire Lingayat community.
Mallikarjun Kharge’s ”venomous snake” barb at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then his son and Chittapur MLA Priyank Kharge “nalayak beta” (incompetent son) remark against him, created a flutter in political circles, eliciting sharp reactions from the BJP.
Amid these back-to-back controversies, the Congress manifesto proposing to banning the Bajrang Dal caused some anxiety as it threatened to hurt the optics, as BJP and PM Modi aggressively picked up the issue to portray the grand old party as being against Lord Hanuman and the sentiments of Hindus.