As Siddaramaiah took oath as Karnataka Chief Minister on Saturday, his swearing in became a platform to test opposition unity ahead of 2024.
The Congress victory in the state is certainly a morale booster for the party and also gives it greater bargaining room in an opposition coalition but if the swearing in was anything to go by, it’s still very complicated.
One one hand, top leaders came together for the event, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejaswi Yadav, along with Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Sitaram Yechury.
A resurgent Congress
But it’s the absence of the others that was glaring. The Congress had invited Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to attend. She skipped it and sent another leader to represent her party, the TMC. The AAP and the BRS were not even invited.
This is despite the fact that Arvind Kejriwal had spoken of the need for all parties to unite to take on the BJP after his meeting with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently, in a change of stand. However the Congress is divided on how to approach its ties with the AAP with Delhi Congress leaders opposed to any understanding.
As far as Telangana is concerned, the main battle is between the Congress and BRS and neither side is particularly keen to mend fences.
Reports say that BRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao downplayed the Congress win in Karnataka at a party meeting last week, warning his party to gear up from the threat of a resurgent Congress in the state in the assembly polls later this year.
Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party was not present at the swearing in either. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was not even invited to Siddaramaiah’s swearing in since the Congress and the CPI M are rivals in the state, but it prompted criticism from the Left anyway which called the Congress move “immature”.
Too many contradictions
Ironically, only days earlier, Mamata Banerjee had seemingly softened her position vis-a-vis the Congress, essentially saying the TMC would support the Congress in those areas where it was strong but warning that the Congress would also have to make sacrifices.
“They have to see that they have to support other political parties also. I support you for Karnataka but you are fighting against me every day. That should not be the policy. This is for everybody. If you want some good thing, then you have to sacrifice yourself also in some areas,” the Bengal Chief Minister had said. Just weeks before that, a miffed Mamata had said her party the Trinamool Congress would contest the next general elections alone.
Over the last decade, the Congress’ stock had declined as it did badly in Lok Sabha polls and state elections. Parties like the AAP and BRS along with Mamata and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party have made no secret of their discomfort with the party.
Nitish Kumar is among those who is clear that an opposition alliance will need the congress at the fulcrum and has been trying to get other opposition leaders on board.
Rahul Gandhi’s stock has also shot up after the Karnataka results. Although local leaders like Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar deserve much of the credit for the win in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra seems to have made an impact too. The Congress says the Yatra passed through 20 constituencies and that they won 15 of these.
Regional leaders have got a boost with the Congress win for other reasons too. While Himachal was an important win for the party, Karnataka is a much bigger state which is politically more significant.
The fact that the Congress defeated a BJP campaign lead by Prime Minister Modi and that too with a pro poor agenda and a clear blueprint, could give other parties a template to work on as well. It has shown that the BJP is not invincible and that Hindutva alone may not be enough to see it through.
The next few months will test the opposition greatly. Too many contradictions are still holding back any efforts at substantive unity.