Bengaluru: The Congress appears lost in Karnataka. Not only has it suffered three successive electoral defeats, but its top leadership has also resigned, leaving the party searching for a clear direction.
The party won just two seats out of 15 in the recent by-elections to the state assembly, a second drubbing this year after winning just one seat in the Lok Sabha polls, which it contested in alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular).
And now it also seems rudderless, with state Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao and legislature party leader Siddaramaiah both taking “moral responsibility” for the bypoll defeats and resigning.
It’s a far cry from the time when Siddaramaiah ruled the state with a simple majority for five years from 2013 to 2018, and senior state Congress leaders say there’s an urgent need to find the root of the problem that has led to the “disconnect” between the voters and the party.
‘Lost the trust of the people’
The leaders say there have recently been enough indications that the party has lost the trust of the people, and younger leaders say this trend needs to be reversed.
“Since the 2018 elections, the party has been facing a steady decline of votes and support, even in its strongholds, which is a matter of immediate concern,” a senior leader told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
The Congress’ tally fell from 122 seats in the 2013 assembly polls to 80 in 2018. And though the party joined hands with the JD(S) to form a government headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy, the arrangement lasted just 14 months as the BJP managed to lure 17 legislators away and install a B.S. Yediyurappa-led government, necessitating the bypolls earlier this month.
“It is the performance in the by-elections and the earlier two elections which should force us to introspect what are the causes for our failure. Have our policies failed to deliver; is casteist politics within the party hurting us; is there factionalism that is hurting our chances; or are our own people working against us, causing us to fail each time?” said another senior leader.
Sources in the Congress said the party high command has not yet decided whether to accept Siddaramaiah and Gundu Rao’s resignations. But a “strong decision” is expected soon, another leader told ThePrint.
A leader close to Siddaramaiah said for now, he is “firm on his decision to resign”.
“He has been asked to meet the high command in Delhi, but since he recently underwent angioplasty, he has been advised 15 days’ rest, and is likely to go only after he recovers completely,” this leader said.
The state unit is drawing up a list of likely candidates who could be its chief and CLP leader. The names on the list are expected to include former ministers D.K. Shivakumar, H.K. Patil and M.B. Patil, current working president Eshwar Khandre, former Union minister K.H. Muniyappa, and former KPCC chief Dr G. Parameshwara.
The party also faced major embarrassment recently when its leaders were supposed to protest outside the KPCC office against the provisions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, now an Act. Khandre took charge of it, but most senior leaders were absent from the protest, fuelling speculation on who will lead the party.
‘Empower state leaders’
Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro-vice chancellor of Bengaluru’s Jain University, said the Congress needs to empower state-level leaders to ensure its survival, both in Karnataka and elsewhere. He said the national leadership must realise its role is limited to maintaining unity within the party, because it seems incapable of getting votes or support.
“The moment you project national leaders, it becomes a fight with Narendra Modi. The route that the Congress needs to take is to project leaders who have mass appeal,” Shastri said.
“Send a clear signal to the voters and the cadre that they (mass leaders) are the ones who are being empowered, and they will work as a team. Their approach will be to take everybody along. That can help the Congress revive,” he added.