Even as the results pour in for the Karnataka Assembly election, showing an impressive standing for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the message that is going out to all the secular parties is this: they need to resolve their differences and stand together if they are to take on the BJP in the 2019 general election. As Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put it: “If Congress had gone into an alliance with the JD(S), the result would have been different—very different.”
This is a view echoed by even Congress leaders who feel that a Uttar Pradesh-style coalition like the one forged by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and the Yadav-led Samajwadi Party in the Gorakhpur bye-election is the way forward.
“People described the coming together of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav as an unholy understanding between two parties considered to be sworn enemies,” a senior Congress leader from Kerala who was a cabinet minister in the UPA-2 government told SouthWord. “But that alliance worked in binding the anti-BJP votes together in Gorakhpur. All parties must learn from that and duplicate the Gorakhpur formula. The Congress party needs to redraft its coalition dharma to make it all-inclusive. It needs to be far more accommodative and forget petty differences. Everyone who stands against the politics practiced by the BJP needs to stand united on one platform. That is the only way.”
The Karnataka results, according to this leader, prove that the BJP is far more effective than the Congress with its “use and misuse” of social media to push its communal agenda. “No one is suggesting that the Congress should stop its social media campaigns. It has its role, but as a party we cannot stoop to the level of the BJP and spread fake news and propaganda. So, there is the need to come up with electoral strategies that work. Right now, we need to seriously think of forging a larger front against the BJP,” the leader added.
According to BJP insiders, the party’s Karnataka social media cell set up 23,000 WhatsApp groups with about 100 members in each group. It was partly through this social media network that the party reached out to people and countered Opposition campaigns as well as spread misinformation about political rivals and communally polarised the electorate.
All eyes on MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh
The Congress defeat in Karnataka is a big blow for Rahul Gandhi. But the fact that he campaigned vigorously in the southern state cannot be denied. He pulled crowds and conducted himself with dignity. One could see the new Rahul Gandhi in action during the campaign. But anti-incumbency and a divided secular front meant three way contests in several constituencies, which has ensured that the BJP has ended up with the most seats.
If the Opposition parties are to come together and put up a united front in 2019, they need to do so post haste because there is speculation in Delhi that the general election, which is scheduled for May, will likely be advanced to December. There is no official confirmation on this with the BJP itself being divided on the issue. One section believes that it must push forward with the gains made in Karnataka, while the other prescribes not upsetting the schedule since crucial Assembly polls are due in the three BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in December-January.
These are three states where the BJP will be fighting anti-incumbency and some in the Saffron party as well as in the RSS feel that resources will have to be fully focussed in order to retain these states where many perceive a Congress resurgence. This may not be possible in the event of simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
For the Congress, the forthcoming assembly elections offer another opportunity for a comeback. Perhaps the results in these three states will have a far bigger bearing on 2019.