The Congress has become wiser after its Gujarat experience. It had everything going for itself and yet faltered at the finish line and lost by a whisker, as it could not translate the huge disappointment and even a wage of anger against the BJP government in the state and the slide in economy that affected largely the youth into concrete votes for itself.
That it lost narrowly, with margins of less than 2,000 on nearly 10 seats, has given the Congress party the one big lesson it took away from Gujarat elections and from the way in which the Modi-Shah election machinery works on the ground. And the need to micro-manage the electoral machinery at the booth level is something that the Congress needs to do and urgently as it is afflicted by an element of antiincumbency, even though Karnataka chief minister S Siddharamaiah has given a relatively cleaner government and has embarked on a hugely populist programme for several months together.
Even today he is touring all the 28 districts and announcing development programmes, with a clear-cut strategy in mind. His plank is going to be development as also to highlight what the Congress calls the lacklustre leadership in former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. Political analysts admit that the BJP may have scored a bit of an own goal in naming him the chief ministerial candidate and also this had triggered an intense infighting within the BJP in the state, to an extent that party president Amit Shah has come to take full charge of election management in Karnataka.
Chief minister Siddharamaiah remains confident that Amit Shah would fail this time around, as the results of the recent byelections in the state had shown. The bypoll results of Nanjangud and Gundlupet constituencies that elected Congress is proof enough of how things are going to be, the CM has said, but at the same time not leaving anything to chance.
He has taken it upon himself to visit all the constituencies at present held by the Congress, touring them extensively and meeting party leaders and workers, besides of course carrying out mass contact programmes. He is also announcing various welfare schemes and developmental projects, to build a perception that he and the Congress were development minded and at the same time aggressively counter the BJP activities and strategy to polarise the voters. Siddharamaiah has taken Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath head on and declared that he has to counter his lies with truth.
Already the political temperature in Karnataka is rising with each passing day.
The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) is working overtime to erect its team for micro-managing the elections and is setting up booth-level committees at 54,261 locations – and here party cadres are publicising the government policies and programmes to voters.
Clearly the attempt is to match the cadre base of the BJP and beat it at the Sangh Parivar’s own game. G Parameshwara, KPCC president, has set up the booth committees, each of which will have 10-20 people. The Congress has raised an army of 8 lakh workers to help from now onto elections, to match the cadre strength of the BJP and RSS.
What the Congress has also done is to focus on mass contact programmes – with CM travelling to all the constituencies held by the Congress and the soft-spoken and affable KPCC chief Parameshwara is touring all constituencies held by the non-Congress parties. There is a clear-cut division of work and also an effort to put up a united front, though there are factional feuds in the Congress. Reports of simmering differences between the top two Congress leaders keep appearing in the media, but Congress leaders take pains to explain that it is all a thing of the past and the Congress is a united house.
“You will see it on the ground and in elections. It is in fact the BJP that is hopelessly divided and their Delhi leadership knows it. Why do you think their biggest leader has to take charge here,” questioned a senior Congress leader.
Said Brajeh Kallappa, Congress spokesperson, “Congress is winning, and you will see when results are out.” But it is easier said than done. Unlike in previous elections in 2013, the Congress is the ruling party and will have to bear the anti-incumbency pressures. Defending the government and its actions is going to be that much tougher than criticising a government.
What the Congress has also done is to foCus on mass ContaCt programmes– With Cm travelling to all the ConstituenCies held by the Congress
What the Congress is trying to do is to achieve this objective of sending out positive messages of government achievements to the masses. And it has deployed all its talent from Delhi for this purpose. Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor, is also reaching out to professionals in Karnataka and also has been given a role in public outreach. “I am reaching out to professionals who want to join us politically,” he told media persons in Bengaluru recently. But even those who just pitch in with ideas are welcome even if they don’t want to join the campaign themselves, he said.
Congress national spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi has been shifted to Bengaluru to tone up the party’s communication machinery and give it an edge in the messaging that will be the key to win elections. The team is being rejigged and peopled with those with effective communication skills as also social media expertise to mount digital campaigns and on social media platforms. She has been charged with the responsibility of identifying and roping in people with communication skills that will strengthen the party’s overall outreach and communication strategies and their implementation.
Actually, even the old guard that Siddharamaiah is has taken to social media with a vigour and rigour that has taken even his colleagues by surprise. He was known to keep a distance from the media, but over the past few months he has been battling an aggressive electronic media with aplomb. The chief minister also has a very active Twitter handle and his recent Twitter war with UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath is an indicator of his growing expertise on this communication tool. He already has his speeches broadcast on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
For sure, this is another lesson the Congress has learnt from Gujarat – a communication strategy that has worked. No longer the BJP leaders derisively dismiss AICC president Rahul Gandhi as the Pappu as the voters said ‘Pappu paas ho gaya’. Congress under him could not win Gujarat, but has zeroed in on a strategy that can question the might of the Modi-Shah election machinery. Credit to the online can easily go to Divya Spandana, an actor-turned politician hailing from Karnataka. She had contested and lost the polls from Mandya, the farmers’ suicide capital of Karnataka.
The Congress advantage here is that its communication expert hails from the state and knows the issues the polls will be fought on.
The Congress strategy is simple. Go to the people on the development plank and showcase the performance of the Siddharamaiah government as a contrast against the ‘divisive and polarising campaign’ of the BJP, said Kallappa.