In India the Congress Party has achieved an impressive victory in the Karnataka assembly elections.
The election result has not only freed the southern part of India from the rule of India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but it has also conveyed several powerful political messages and directions that can be crucial for India’s political trajectory in the years to come. Notably, the country’s general election is scheduled to take place in the first half of 2024.
For nearly a decade now, Indian politics has been dominated by the BJP, which prides itself as a Hindu nationalist party and promotes majoritarian politics. With the rise of the BJP, the country also witnessed the decline of the grand old Congress’ electoral landscape.
The defeat of the Congress in the last two general elections had raised doubts over whether India would remain secular. Questions were also raised over the strategy of Rahul Gandhi, the party’s leader, in taking an openly confrontational position against majoritarian ideology and politics.
Rahul Gandhi factor
Many political pundits were advising the Congress to play down its secular politics and act like some of the regional parties who have adopted the policy of ideological coexistence with the BJP.
The Congress also witnessed several of its top leaders leaving the party and joining the BJP after blaming Rahul Gandhi’s anti-majoritarian positions which they felt could make them unelectable.
While almost all wanted to swim with the populist tide, Rahul Gandhi kept his focus on criticising the RSS, the mother ship of Hindu nationalist forces. He didn’t budge from his ideological conviction that secular, inclusive politics is the only way forward for a diverse, multicultural country like India.
Cases were filed against Rahul Gandhi in different corners of India, and he has received a two-year jail sentence on a politically framed case (he has since appealed it).
Gandhi has been disqualified from his Parliamentary membership, his security protection has been downgraded, his government accommodation taken away, but he continued to advocate that the country’s politics should be about love and respect, not hate and violence.
In his words, he is opening a shop to spread love in the market of hate (Nafrat ke bazaar mein, Mohabbat ki dukaan khol raha hoon) in India.
When Rahul Gandhi undertook his Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March) of over 4,000 kilometres in the Autumn of 2022, many doubted the usefulness of that exercise since it had no electoral agenda.
Secularism, democracy and inclusiveness
In my ‘Right is Wrong’ column, I wrote that the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra had, to a certain extent, changed the political narrative of India, and people could be mobilised under the banner of secularism, democracy, and inclusiveness, even when the country was going through a majoritarian tsunami.
Karnataka has been the laboratory of the RSS for years, and the BJP has been the dominant force in the state for at least fifteen years. In the last election, it had the most seats. The party had been ruling the state for the last four years. During these four years, the BJP did everything to promote a majoritarian agenda in the state.
Hijab bans were introduced in state-run schools and colleges. The state celebration of the birth anniversary of a celebrated Muslim King — Tipu Sultan — who was known for his battles against colonial forces was cancelled.
While the ruling Party, BJP, adopted a full-scale majoritarian mobilisation for the election, there was general apprehension about whether the challenger Congress Party would take a cautious ideological approach in fear of not upsetting the majority community, which is 84 per cent of the state population. But the state unit followed Rahul Gandhi’s path and seldom lost focus.
A vote for tolerance, inclusiveness
When the Congress party’s election manifesto promised to ban a majoritarian militant outfit, Bajrang Dal, many analysts even commented that the party had overplayed its hand, arguing it would result in religious polarisation, and the BJP would gain from it.
However, in Karnataka, the Congress Party won more than double the number of seats the BJP has won, even though the state is overwhelmingly Hindu, which the BJP considers its vote bank.
The election results show that the voters in Karnataka did not fall for majoritarian politics and voted for a government that believes in tolerance, inclusiveness, and secularism.
What Rahul Gandhi demonstrated in his successful Bharat Jodo Yatra, Karnataka confirmed: At its core India still believes in a democratic, secular framework.
There is no doubt that the result of the Karnataka election shows the Congress must hold on to Rahul Gandhi’s no-holds-barred opposition to majoritarian politics.
It is only a matter of time before the Congress Party takes back power from the BJP.