While Congress deals with its national leadership crisis, looking for a party president, Rahul Gandhi has been leading the Karnataka leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, accompanied by former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on one side and state Congress chief DK Shivkumar on the other.
The 22-day journey in the state comes roughly six months before the state assembly goes to polls, with an eye on reclaiming the key southern state.
On the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, the senior Congress leader addressed a rally in Mysuru, amid heavy rains, while the participants cheered him on.
The yatra aims at strengthening support for the party and will target the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government over corruption charges and increasing communalism in the state.
Meanwhile, the ruling BJP government is upping its attack on the yatra as Congress leaders march through the state.
The Quint spoke to political analysts Sumanth Raman and Tyagraj Sharma to understand how the yatra may help Congress in the elections and how the BJP will try to counter it.
'Yatra Is the Only Way Left': Rahul Gandhi
On Friday, Rahul Gandhi claimed that the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' was the only option left with the party to reach out to the masses as all other ways to connect with the people, including the Parliament and media, had been made redundant.
The former Congress president said that in the next 21 days, during which the Yatra would cover 511 km passing through various districts, the "pain of Karnataka" will be heard.
Apart from corruption allegations, the party will also question the government on the rise in prices of essential commodities, unemployment, farmers’ issues and communal unrest.
Speaking on the importance of the yatra, Sumanth Raman said, "It is very important for Congress to do well, since it looks like they may not win Gujarat."
"The impact they are making now can sustain for six months since there is a lot of anti-incumbency against the Basavaraj Bommai government. Moreover, he doesn’t have the stature of BJP's former state CM Yeddyurappa. In fact, Bommai has no mass base at all," he added.
However, despite the support that Rahul's yatra may garner for Congress, the party can "mess it up between DK Shivkumar and Siddaramaiah. They have to announce a clear CM candidate and do it in the next couple of months. If they keep the suspense on, they could still end up making a mess of things," he added.
"Both are eyeing the CM's post in case Congress wins. That will be a major problem. Shivkumar is determined to get the CM seat as he has waited too long. He is also facing a lot of probes," Sharma stated, in light of the Enforcement Directorate's summon in the National Herald case.
PayCM Campaign & Its Impact on Bommai Govt
Posters titled 'PayCM' with Bommai's photograph had surfaced in parts of Bengaluru last month. The posters were designed to look like the electronic wallet, Paytm; the chief minister's face figures in the middle of a QR code with a message that reads, "40 percent accepted here."
The '40 percent jibe' is a reference to the allegations made by the Karnataka State Contractors Association, which claimed that 40 percent of the tender amount for state-funded infrastructural projects was being taken as a bribe by BJP leaders and officials.
Congress leaders were later detained for pasting the same posters.
Calling the campaign "an innovative one," Raman highlighted that "it is not the Congress who brought this out. The contractors themselves came out and said that we are not able to afford the price (demanded by govt officials for contracts)."
Further, he said, "The BJP is concerned that the ground is slipping under their feet. There were talks that Bommai might be replaced. But they don’t have anyone else. They can’t go back to Yediyurappa."
Speaking on the yatra and Congress' strategy, Tyagraj Sharma said, "Largely, there is excitement that Rahul Gandhi is visiting these places. Further, the rally in Karnataka is timely because of the corruption charges. They have come to a state where virtually every department is facing allegations of corruption."
He added, "You take the floods in Bengaluru, the encroachments - it would not have happened if people had not encroached. All that is still fresh in people’s minds. All the allegations could have an impact on the party's support in the state."
Speaking on how the ruling party has handled the allegations, Sharma said:
"The public’s anger is also something Bommai can’t dismiss. PayCM is a big tamasha but every opposition party is allowed to target the government. Moreover, they (BJP) allowed themselves to be attacked. Instead of setting up a probe committee, they have just dismissed the charges."
Despite the increasing support and anger against the Bommai-led govt, Sharma estimates that 2023 Assembly polls could still very well have a "hung assembly."
BJP's Strategy To Undermine 'Yatra' and Win Polls
Speaking on ways the ruling party will try to undermine the yatra, Raman said, "They will try for polarization, with the hijab issue among others. Mainly, they will also have to go back to relying on Prime Minister Narendra Modi."
Raman added that "If they (BJP) went to the electorate saying ‘vote for Bommai', they will be cleaned out.”
Pointing out the future course of action, he said, "They will say Modi Ji has done a lot for the country and you should vote for him."
Meanwhile, referring to allegations by BJP state president Nalin Kumar Kateel, claiming that Congress encouraged terrorism by supporting organisations like PFI, Sharma said:
"BJP is the ruling party and they will go to all lengths to undermine the yatra and level allegations at the drop of a hat. And not just BJP, all political parties do it. This is politics, where there is 'no-holds barred'. When it comes to yatras by the opposition, every ruling party, whichever the state, would try to ridicule the opposition besides accusing it of appeasing sections from different communities.”
However, he added, "There will be a dependency on Modi because of the anger against Karnataka politicians. He will visit the state more often considering how sensitive things have become after the corruption allegations."
“Besides, it is important for the BJP to retain Karnataka; if only to enable it to strengthen itself in the south. For Modi and BJP, therefore, it is imperative to hold on to Karnataka,” Sharma said.
Meanwhile, it may not be difficult for Rahul to point towards a rise in communal tension and violence under BJP rule in Karnataka.
As per data presented by the state in the Legislative Assembly itself, the number of communal violence cases or riots since 2019 have increased to 163 in the state, compared to 32 in 2021, and just 19 the year before that.
Almost three-fifths of this year's cases were in Shivamogga, the Malnad district represented by home minister Araga Jnanendra.
Constituencies & Yatra Route
The Congress yatra is set to cover seven Lok Sabha segments and 22 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka.
It will go through districts of Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, JD(S) stronghold Mandya, evenly split Tumakuru, BJP stronghold Chitradurga, Ballari, where Congress won 6 out of 9 seats and Raichur, where it had won 3 out of 7 seats.
Though the BJP had won the most seats, 104, in the 2018 Assembly elections, the Indian National Congress (80 seats) and Janata Dal (Secular) (37 seats) formed a coalition government with 120 out of 224 seats.
Following 2019’s general election, when the BJP-led NDA won 26 out of 28 seats in Karnataka, 14 Congress and 3 JD(S) MLAs submitted their resignations toppling the alliance government and triggering by-elections in the state.
The resignation and subsequent disqualification of such a large number of MLAs did not just topple an existing government, but also ensured that the numbers in the House were reduced to an extent where a new BJP government with 106 MLAs —whereas a full house requires 113 — could be sworn in.
While the BJP won 12 of the 15 bypoll seats, Congress was able to win back Hunsur in Mandya district and keep Shivajinagar in Bengaluru Central constituency.
Speaking on the previous elections and how the alliance government was toppled by the BJP, Raman said, "The strength of the BJP is always there, they can lure MLAs from the Congress. So, if Congress wants to form a government, they need to get a sizeable majority. It cannot be a narrow majority, else the BJP can very well topple them again."