It has been a hard fought election in Karnataka. And the Congress party has won.

The victory is registered despite the meal mouthed television anchors refusing to give the party credit, insisting it should not even celebrate and wait for the final results, and every now and again shifting to UP civic polls to give themselves a breather from the ‘bad news’. Instead of acknowledging and then analysing the results, the controlled media anchors sat down to make a tasteless pudding of the Congress win by running Rahul Gandhi down, insisting his sister Priyanka was more popular, and claiming that the role of the state leaders was minimised by the party post-victory. All this and more when the Congress tally crossed the majority mark.

But the voters had a different perception, and hence the results despite the halal, hijab, hate campaign supported by the media through the past weeks. For one and this perhaps is the most important lesson in these times, the poll results have demonstrated that the hate campaign of the BJP has not worked to sway the masses in Karnataka. That the fires of divisiveness and polarisation have not spread across this important state, with the voters keeping their focus on price rise, unemployment and corruption. And the fact that the Congress party was able to show them the way this time after a long gap, has worked to its advantage.

Despite the media’s all consuming focus on castes and communities, people have crossed the divides and voted for harmony and livelihood. Be they the Lingayats who have stepped out of their traditional strongholds to embrace the Congress in larger numbers than ever before, or the Scheduled Castes who too have shown signs of switching sides - from the BJP to the Congress— in these elections. The Vokkaligas seem to have been more predictable, keeping their loyalties reserved for the Janata Dal(S) and the Congress party and not succumbing to BJP lures.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not wrong in saying that the results of the elections in Karnataka 2023 would show the way for the general elections in 2024. In that it is a big victory for the Congress party, given the fact that it is their first election after the pathbreaking Bharat Jodo Yatra, and much needed for the party to get its act together before the parliamentary elections. It was also experimental ground for its new strategy (read: and a coming together of the party organisation as not seen in recent years. It was also a real and serious acceptance of Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the party, not just by voters but by the party itself. This will go a long way to prep the party for the state and general elections ahead.

The new Congress led by Rahul Gandhi , that has been made clear by the family and the central leaders over and over again since the BJY, will be on display from now on. The first task will be the election of the Chief Minister, given the fact that there are serious contenders and rivals within the party who settled their differences for the elections but will now be eyeing the CMs chair. And eyeing it with the BJP breathing down their neck, and working to create divisions and pick up the spoils. The ruling party at the centre cannot be under-estimated, and has done extremely well in forming governments without necessarily winning the elections. Karnataka itself being a case in point.

Rahul Gandhi has been listening to the local leaders, and keeping them all on board. For instance he let them dictate his campaign in that he dropped Adani and corruption on their advice, and picked up local issues such as the Nandini vs Amul dairy issue. If he follows his own instincts and allows the local legislature to elect the leader he might find himself on a stronger wicket insofar as the forthcoming general elections are concerned. Given the new feel of democracy within the party organisation, this might happen. But more of this later.

The people of Karnataka have voted out the BJP. And actually voted in the Congress party over and above the local favourite Janata Dal(Secular). In that there has been both a negative and a positive vote against price rise, for livelihood and jobs; against disharmony, for peace; against corruption, for a cleaner government. The BJP’s campaign of polarisation has not worked, and nor have the poll eve reservations for different communities that the government announced. It has been made clear by the people that they cannot be taken for granted, that they cannot be fooled, and that they found the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi far more attractive and convincing than the BJP. At least for now.

The South has voted against the BJP also because it is seen as a Hindi belt party, and against federalism that is very close to the ‘southern’ heart. Unlike Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Karnataka was momentarily swayed with the politics of divisiveness and the strong party image that the BJP had created in the face of a weak and corrupt Congress and JD(S) but recent years of experience have taken it back into the federalism fold. There have been protests in Karnataka on the language issue as well, with the recent Nandini vs Amul dairy issue raising regional sentiments visibly.

The Congress will need strong leadership, cohesiveness, and full support from the central organisation of the party to govern Karnataka. And ensure that the state votes positively for the party during the general elections. The BJP is a strong force in Karnataka and will work doubly hard to make it tough for the Congress government to function. It has a solid organisation, and will pull out all the plugs to weaken the new government. It will thus be necessary for the Congress party to emerge from the results with a strong government and a well knitted organisation with all wings on the same page. For this the central leadership of the Congress will have to follow the will of the legislatures; and support all state leaders and not play the games that it has been infamous for.

There is a great deal ahead but the first step has gone the way of the Congress party. It has established the impact of the BJY; settled the issue of central leadership in favour of Rahul Gandhi; underlined the organisation’s ability to mount a solid campaign; endorsed the strategy to rise above petty politics and focus on larger issues that really matter to the people. And given out a signal that it can combat the seemingly invincible BJP head on.

On a quick note, it is time that the television anchors take a close look at themselves. And realise that coverage has to remain impartial and above board. The whining on television was rather pathetic, more so when anchors refused to acknowledge the rather convincing leads, and even chastised the Congress party for celebrating a victory too early! All the while insisting that this victory was just anti-incumbency and little more.

Tomorrow: A Day Later