Mangaluru, Feb 10: The entire nation is already geared up for the Lok Sabha election, which is just around the corner from the announcement by the election commission. Political parties have already begun strategizing and planning to secure victories in their respective seats. In Karnataka, the ruling Congress and the central ruling BJP are in direct competition, while JD(S) struggles to assert its presence, which seems to diminish after each election.
In the current scenario, Congress has a clear upper hand in strategy building, while BJP is still grappling with the aftermath of a devastating defeat in the last state assembly election.
However, in coastal districts, BJP remains formidable without facing any significant opposition. In Dakshina Kannada (DK), Congress appears to be passive and resigned to defeat.
Has the Congress leadership in Dakshina Kannada failed to capitalize on its significant victory in the state?
Despite the massive victory of the Congress party in the state election, it has had little impact on the Congress camps in coastal Karnataka. The leadership has failed to leverage this victory and translate it to grassroots level support. While the northern and central districts celebrated Siddaramaiah's achievements with enthusiasm, in coastal districts, especially in Dakshina Kannada, these achievements are perceived as normal government facilities. The Congress leadership has not capitalized on the credit for these achievements, which were promised by the Congress party before the election. As a result, Congress missed a golden opportunity to win the hearts of voters, especially those without any Sangh Parivar backgrounds or influences.
Secondly, the Congress leadership in Dakshina Kannada remains stagnant. From the district office to the majority of block committee offices, they seem to serve only a few leaders for their personal business dealings. There is a lack of public engagement with the party, and this failure to provide assistance and service is undermining the popularity of the Congress party.
Is the Dakshina Kannada Congress facing a shortage of courageous leaders?
In addition to strategic manoeuvres, aggressiveness plays a pivotal role in politics. Every party seeks assertive and courageous leaders who can captivate the public with their impassioned speeches and bold leadership. According to party workers, Dakshina Kannada Congress lacks such leaders. "No Congress leader in Dakshina Kannada can individually counter the opposition and their political tactics. The ambitions of senior leaders for power and positions have dashed the hopes of young leaders, with many being sidelined or quitting active politics. Some leaders who once aspired to lead Dakshina Kannada Congress have now become community leaders of major ethnic groups in the district. The concept of leaders representing the masses or party workers has all but disappeared in the district Congress," says Anush Bangera, a youth Congress worker from Bantwal.
"Janardhana Poojary, Ramanath Rai, Vasanth Bangera were once regarded as leaders of the public and were accepted by thousands of party workers. However, they failed to groom successors. Now, there are more than seven internal factions within the district Congress, each vying against the other and formulating strategies to defeat their own colleagues. Many leaders attend party meetings representing specific ethnic communities with their own hidden agendas and personal interests. No leader embodies the true spirit of Gandhian values or Congress ideals, coupled with loyalty to the Congress party," Anush elaborates.
"There is a lack of articulate leaders in the district who can effectively communicate the party's ideas and decisions to the public. While Ivan D'Souza was known for making noise in front of the media and public, he has now fallen silent for unknown reasons. Ramanath Rai's statements are often perceived as nonsensical due to his age. Party workers themselves assert that Abhayachandra Jain and his feudal mindset are primarily responsible for Congress' decline in the Moodbidri constituency," adds Joyston Moodbidre, who was active in NSUI during his college days.
Is the Business Partnership Between Congress and BJP Leaders Hindering Congress's Ability to Counter BJP?
The most significant allegation levelled by hard-core Congress workers against the district leadership is the business partnership between Congress and BJP leaders. Many Congress and BJP leaders in the district are involved in various entrepreneurial endeavours. When it comes to business, leaders from both parties convene in the same room to conduct their affairs. This raises questions about how these leaders can effectively engage in political opposition when they are deeply entrenched in local business interests.
It is commonly alleged that the majority of Congress and BJP leaders regularly meet for their business requirements. They often utilize their political influence to secure favourable business deals, contracts, and exemptions from legal issues. In such cases, Congress leaders are perceived to be more loyal to the BJP leadership. Most party workers are aware of this dynamic, leading to a situation in the district where leaders lack genuine followers. At party events, attendees are sometimes incentivized to participate through monetary means. Given that many leaders are businessmen, they have developed a practice of bringing people by offering financial inducements and presenting them as supporters of the Congress leadership at the state level.
Has Congress Dissolved the Concept of Grassroots Level Work?
"Yes," says Mohan Bhandary, a veteran congressman residing in Tiruvail Village at Vamanjoor. "Intentionally, the Congress leadership neglected to build the party at the grassroots level. Twenty-five years ago, there were active booth committees in every village. Every strategy was formulated in booth committee meetings, and a few Congressmen were appointed to regularly visit each family in the village. This approach fostered a strong relationship and connectivity with the public. However, over the years, the booth committees have been dissolved by the leadership. The widening gap between the party and the public has been effectively exploited by BJP members. As booth committees, they formed Sangh Parivar branches in every village and attracted people with their ideology."
There are numerous issues in villages and industrial areas, and grassroots workers are the ones who can identify and address them. District and block-level leadership cannot directly address these issues without the assistance of locals. However, nowadays, the Congress lacks local support and connectivity, preventing it from becoming the voice of the people. Meanwhile, though they may be fewer in number, the Communists are effectively engaging with the public. They advocate for the people and fight for societal issues. Congress leadership should learn from them," Bhandary emphasizes.
Will the Silence of Congress Leadership Against Communalism Backfire?
One of the major allegations against the district leadership is its profound silence concerning communalism and local communal forces, particularly in a district known as the laboratory of communalism for the Sangh Parivar. Despite being a national party, the tepid response of the Congress leadership towards communalism in the district suggests its tacit acceptance of the communalism propagated by the Sangh Parivar. Throughout the history of Dakshina Kannada, Congress has not mounted any significant resistance against communalism.
In reference to the Congress candidate for the upcoming election and their stance against communal forces, Abdul Muneer Katipalla, a CPIM leader, writes on his Facebook wall, "Who should be an INDIA candidate in Dakshina Kannada district? There are a few names under discussion. Many have asked me about the candidacy of INDIA. I replied to them, 'He should be the person who has at least spoken out against the RSS and its communalism.'"
Why do we need a candidate who hesitates to speak out against RSS and brutal communalism? What is the utility of a candidate who refrains from making political statements against BJP MPs and MLAs, who remains silent about their scandals and failures?
Dakshina Kannada district comprises 30% of votes from minority communities. Why should these communities vote for a candidate who stands beside Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, the mastermind behind communal hatred in the district? Ultimately, why should minorities and staunch secularists vote for those who do not speak out against communal forces, who are lenient towards leaders of communal organizations, and who lack ideological clarity and commitment? What would happen if they win? It strongly opposes communal ideology.
Indeed, the district Congress leadership will undoubtedly face challenges in responding to Muneer Katipalla's questions.
The BJP appears to be basking in the anticipation of victory even before the elections commence. However, they are exercising caution and diligence in their approach to the elections and candidate selection. The gravity of the election is evident in their campaign strategies and preparations. They are keen not to diminish their vote share and are wary of internal dissent within the party. The example of the Puttur constituency serves as a reminder for them, urging them to be vigilant and avoid past mistakes. While the BJP is vigilant about their actions, the careless leadership within the Congress could inadvertently provide them with a boost.