Indiaan Congress revival?

Just weeks after delivering its worst Lok Sabha poll performance in Karnataka, the Congress party has bounced back in the elections to urban local bodies (ULBs), securing victory in the maximum number of wards with the BJP coming in a distant second. The result wasn’t surprising because Karnataka has historically voted for parties in power in the ULBs. For the Congress, it is some respite from the fire-fighting over legislators keen on joining the BJP.

In the first phase of the ULB polls (2,662 wards) in September 2018, the Congress had won from 982 wards, while its alliance partner in the state government, the Janata Dal (Secular), had won 375. The BJP had won 929 wards then. In the second phase (1,361 wards), held on May 29 after the Lok Sabha election, the Congress won from 562 wards, the BJP took 406, JD(S) 202 and Independents 178.

The Congress is set to capture power on its own in two city municipal corporations (CMC), 12 town municipal corporations (TMC) and three town panchayats (TP). The BJP can stake claim in six TMCs and seven CMCs if it joins hands with the JD(S), as it has done in the past at the municipal level.

Political observers say the BJP still has a lot of ground to cover at the grassroots level. “The issues in ULB elections are very different from assembly or Lok Sabha polls. Basic issues relating to PDS, land records, certificates, state schemes overtake national issues. People tend to vote for parties in power as their work gets easier,” says political analyst A Veerappa.

“The BJP is yet to strengthen its network in the villages. They did not focus much on this when they were in power (2008-13) because of infighting. So, Congress is the obvious choice for many,” says poll analyst NL Prakash.

Another reason for the Congress success may be that it had gone solo, without any tie-up with the JD(S). Their differing political ideologies had not helped working conditions for party workers in the Lok Sabha poll. The alliance never clicked, with party workers openly supporting rival candidates.

“They knew that any tacit understanding wouldn’t work at the village level, as the rivalry is a daily affair,” noted FM Khan, a research scholar from Bangalore University.

For the Congress, victory in 40 per cent of the total seats is a morale-booster. “We are grateful to the people. They changed the mandate within days of the Lok Sabha poll,” says state Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao.

The results have also impacted the coalition government, with three of the eight Congress legislators who were planning to quit the party backing out. Apparently, the party’s success in the constituencies represented by them led to the rethink. The BJP, too, has decided to put on hold the move to destabilise the state government.

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