Bengaluru: An uncomfortable alliance with arch-rival Janata Dal (Secular), thrust upon Karnataka Congress workers by the central leadership, is the primary reason behind the party’s Lok Sabha polls debacle, an internal appraisal report has suggested.
The Congress won just one of Karnataka’s 28 Lok Sabha seats in this year’s election, as did the JD(S), and the fragile coalition government formed by the two in the state collapsed soon after too.
The 2019 tally was a big fall for a party that held 10 seats from Karnataka in the previous Lok Sabha.
Following the humbling result, the Congress formed a five-member panel, under former legislative council chair V.R. Sudarshan, to look into its performance and furnish a detailed report.
Apart from the alliance, the panel identified two key reasons for the Congress’ defeat — lack of coordination among party workers, and growing dissent against a group of senior leaders.
The findings are in line with the message communicated by senior Congress leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah to the party high command.
The report has been submitted to Karnataka Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao, who has said that the party will discuss the report and chalk out the future plan of action.
Clean chit for Siddaramaiah
In the 2018 Karnataka assembly polls, the BJP emerged as the single-largest player with 104 of 224 seats, while the Congress and the JD(S) won 80 and 37, respectively.
The primary reason identified by the panel is something observers noticed on the ground as well. The JD(S) alliance — with JD(S) supremo Deve Gowda’s son H.D. Kumaraswamy as chief minister, despite the party’s lower tally — was forced upon the state Congress by the party high command to keep the BJP from assuming office.
None of the state leaders was even consulted, despite it being well-known that Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy never got along well with Siddaramaiah, who exited the JD(S) on bitter terms before joining the Congress.
The committee has given Siddaramaiah, who served as chief minister between 2013 and 2018, a clean chit by stating that anti-incumbency against the Congress government he led was not the reason behind the setback faced.
‘Respect workers’ opinions’
Citing issues such as religion and personal enmity among leaders, the report points out that the party will further hurt its prospects in the state if it does not work to build the confidence of ground-level party workers.
A senior Congress leader privy to the details of the report told ThePrint that, according to the committee, there were only six Lok Sabha seats with “some amount of coordination” between the Congress and the JD(S).
“In 22 constituencies, there was absolutely no coordination, be it at the booth level, ward level or district level,” the leader said, referring to the panel’s findings.
“The voters of the Janata Parivar (the alliance from which the Janata Dal emerged) have traditionally been anti-Congress,” the leader added. “How could one expect them to vote for the Congress party?”
The Sudarshan committee has also made a few recommendations on what the Congress can do to check its image, including respecting the opinion of workers.
“The Congress party should strengthen the party from the ground level and ensure proper implementation of short- and long-term policies,” Sudarshan told ThePrint. “In the 2018 elections, the BJP may have won more seats, but we had a higher percentage of votes, which shows that the Congress base is intact.”
A top Congress source also said the defeat of Mallikarjun Kharge, the former Congress leader in the Lok Sabha who has won elections for a record 10 consecutive terms, was due to the “high-handedness” of his son and former state minister Priyank Kharge in local party affairs.
The younger Kharge’s interference “irked and antagonised” several leaders and many refused to help in the campaign. Senior Kharge lost the seat, for the first time, by a margin of 95,196 votes.
Jadhav is a former Congress leader who joined the BJP last year. Jadhav came to be known as a “giant-killer” after this win.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.