Karnataka Polls 2023: ‘Common man’ issues like LPG, poverty, unemployment cost BJP its southern bastion  

Opposition Congress’ strategy of targeting the incumbent for not performing on governance issues pays off

By M Raghuram
Published: Saturday 13 May 2023

Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar speaks to the media. Photo: @DKShivakumar / Twitter Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar speaks to the media. Photo: @DKShivakumar / Twitter 

Issues relevant to the citizens of Karnataka were mainly responsible for the defeat of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), poll results showed on May 13, 2023.

The opposition Indian National Congress won 136 seats and some of them were thought to be beyond the party’s reach. The BJP came second, with 65 seats, its seat share decreasing by 45 from 2018.

The mandate that the Congress got in the elections hinged on the very basic needs of the common man. The party’s election machinery had realised early that the ‘freebies’, as termed by the BJP, were actually real issues faced by common people.

The Congress had promised this set of ‘guarantees’ to reach the common man in its manifesto. The BJP got a whiff of this strategy only towards the end of the campaign and hurriedly put together its own version of freebies in its manifesto. By then though, it was too late to catch the voters’ attention.

One of the most important commodities for the common man is fuel security. The high cost of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) has made life difficult for people  in Karnataka.

The Congress knew that the pricing of LPG is done at the central level. It escalated the matter as a prime issue, aiming at both the central government and Prime Minister Modi’s ‘double-engine’ government concept.

The issue was featured prominently on the party’s promos. The comparison of price bands of the LPG cylinder between the Congress regime and the BJP regime was also put out in the public domain.

Former Union ministers and chief ministers of various Congress-governed states like Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Prithviraj Chavan (former CM of Maharashtra) and Jairam Ramesh issued statements during the campaign which made an impact.

In addition, the Prajadhwani Yatra had also raised this issue to a new pitch. The Congress, however, did not add the LPG cylinder to its list of guarantees.

The Grand Old Party also drummed up the issue of poverty to a fever pitch. Unemployment and malnutrition due to poverty were dealt with collectively.

Ten kilograms of rice were projected not as a freebie but as an intermediary help to the poor till the party could address issues related to poverty, unemployment and Livelihood. 

“These are real issues that have touched the lives of common people. These welfare schemes were already there during our government,” DK Shivakumar, the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president, had said during the Prajadhwani Yatra.

“They were discontinued by the elitist BJP government in the state after 2018. The BJP also wanted to dismantle another welfare measure of the Congress government, the Indira canteens which were established to give daily food to labourers and daily wagers. We had never stopped people not belonging to these categories from utilising these canteens’ services,” Shivakumar had added.

The unemployment stipend announced by the Congress (Rs 1,500 for diploma holders and Rs 3,000 for degree holders) had also been a welfare measure and not a freebie as announced by former member of Parliament and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi when he launched it in the Mangaluru assembly constituency during his election campaign.

The Congress was not expected to win more than 114 seats, according to various surveys. But state leaders Shivakumar and former chief minister S Siddaramiah had predicted 141 and 130 votes for the party, which turned out to be correct.

DK Shivakumar led the party from the front and won his seat in Kanakapura by a margin of over 100,000 votes which is the highest among any candidate belonging to any party.

The only debacle for the Congress was in Coastal Karnataka where the BJP has retained all five seats in Udupi district. The party has won two seats in Dakshina Kannada — Puttur and Mangaluru city (Ullal) after a tightly fought battle.

In Chikkamgaluru district, the Congress has won four of the five seats including Chikkamagaluru which was earlier held by BJP strongman CT Ravi. Mudigere, Sringeri and Tarikere are the other seats won by the party.

The Congress won 22 of the 45 seats in the Kalyana Karnataka (formerly known as Hyderabad-Karnataka) region in the state’s north-east. The region comprises districts such as Bidar, Gulbarga, Raichur, Koppal, Yadgir, Kalaburagi and Ballari.

The Kittur Karnataka (formerly known as Bombay-Karnataka) region, comprising districts such as Uttara Kannada, Belagavi, Dharwad, Vijayapura, Bagalkote, Gadag and Haveri, contributed 20 seats to the Congress total.

Central Karnataka has also returned most of the sitting Congress members of the Legislative Assembly and six new seats previously held by the BJP. However, Greater Bengaluru still remains a BJP stronghold. Mysuru has also remained a traditional Janata Dal (Secular) bastion.

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