Karnataka elections 2023: The men and women behind the Congress success

The party ran a united campaign, setting the agenda throughout. Here is the list of people who made it a success

Archis Mohan New Delhi

Congress (Photo: PTI)

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The Congress owes several of its leaders for its Karnataka success.
At 82, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addressed nearly three dozen public meetings and kept the peace between its warring factions. Then there was the party's Karnataka in charge, Randeep Singh Surjewala, who relocated to the state to run an efficient campaign.

On Saturday, as the Congress headed to a huge win, the party credited Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra for contributing to the triumph. The Yatra spent 21 days in Karnataka, the longest it did in any state during its 3500-km Kanyakumari to Kashmir journey. According to Congress sources, BJY traversed through 51 assembly seats across seven districts of Karnataka - Chitradurga, Raichur, Bellary, Mandya, Chamarajanagar, Mysuru and Tumkur, with the Congress winning or leading in 75 per cent of these. Rahul also addressed or took part in two dozen rallies and road shows.
According to party sources, the Bharat Jodo Yatra consciously focussed on the Old Mysuru region as Karnataka leadership felt Rahul's presence could wean away some of the communities toward the Congress from the Janata Dal (Secular). The party also discovered that people had genuine affection for the Congress's first family in the region. After months of keeping away from active public life, Sonia Gandhi, who had been ailing, joined the Yatra in Mandya, a bastion of the JD(S).

Similarly, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi's associates said her campaign in Karnataka stood out for her powerful speeches, popularity among women and youth, her relatable and heartfelt style, and the discussions surrounding her resemblance to Indira Gandhi's image were noteworthy in the Karnataka elections." She addressed 13 public meetings, 12 roadshows, two meetings of women, and a workers' convention.
For Kharge ensuring his party's win in his home state was a matter of prestige. It has hurt Kharge, and he has expressed this publicly often, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah made it their mission to ensure his defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from the Gulbarga seat. Kharge, according to those close to him, believes the PM has not forgiven him for his strident criticism of the BJP government in the Lok Sabha between 2014 and 2019. Kharge was then the Congress party's leader in the House.

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Kanakapura MLA and party's resourceful state unit chief D K Shivakumar, a popular Vokkaliga leader, has been crucial to the Congress's fortunes in Karnataka. While Shivakumar is a chief ministerial aspirant, he has come to terms, say party sources, with the reality that Siddaramaiah has a more widespread appeal across the state. Shivakumar is willing to wait his turn as Siddaramaiah is 75 and announced that it would be his last election. With the JD(S) declining in the Old Mysuru region, Shivakumar could dethrone the Gowdas as the custodian of Vokkaliga political support.
Finally, former CM Siddaramaiah remains the most popular Kannadiga leader, as Rahul also discovered during the BJY, altering his perception of the socialist leader and backing him for the chief ministerial post for another term. Siddaramaiah was in the Janata Dal and continues to have deep links in the party that the Gowdas lead. He has had JD(S) MLAs defect to the Congress in the past and could do so again.

After burning their fingers with poll strategist Prashant Kishor, the Congress turned to Sunil Kanugolu. He had worked with Kishor on the BJP's 2014 campaign, later parting ways. Different from Kishor, Kanugolu is low profile with no online presence. He data crunched and micro-managed the election for the Congress, especially 70-odd seats the party felt could have close contests.
The win in Karnataka, one of the country's better-governed and wealthy states, could help the Congress fight the forthcoming elections more confidently. 

First Published: May 13 2023 | 4:57 PM IST

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