Opinion: Karnataka Momentum Lost, Congress And INDIA Need New Narrative

The first big takeaway for the Congress, and the opposition as a whole, from the results in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana is that the post-Karnataka momentum is lost, or at least has taken a huge hit.

Despite the fact that it was only one state, the scale of victory in Karnataka in May 2023, gave the Congress a bounce and bolstered the opposition. The BJP seems to have snatched that with its emphatic victories in the Hindi heartland.

The Telangana win for the Congress is just consolation in the broader national context. Even there the numbers for the Congress are just five more than the half-way mark - 64 for the Congress and one for its ally. That is cause for nervousness.

Given the recent history of defections and governments being toppled, the Congress will have to watch its back in Hyderabad. There is no room for any friction over the choice of chief minister.

This is exactly why the party is in a hurry to stake its claim to form a government in Telangana.

Be that as it may, the loss for the Congress nationally will reflect in the power equations within the INDIA grouping. Post-Karnataka, the Congress was buoyed to play the role of the glue and the leading force in bringing the INDIA grouping together.

There were murmurs of unhappiness among strong regional players over the power equations. For instance, the push for a caste census wasn't a collective decision; the Trinamool Congress was not convinced it was the right way forward.

Further, the fact that the INDIA grouping could not come together for the assembly polls, and the acerbic language used by Congress leader Kamal Nath - the Congress's Chief Ministerial face in Madhya Pradesh - were not exactly team-bonding moves.

In hindsight, the Congress could have publicly reprimanded Kamal Nath and put up a strong message against the slighting of allies. It should have sacrificed more of its interests in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to accommodate allies and ensure the alliance was strengthened.

The Trinamool has already said the results show the need for collective leadership and consultation with senior leaders.

These comments will gain strength and the Congress will now have to play an equal in the alliance. The results weaken its position considerably.

There was only a southern silver lining - the INDIA grouping will now control Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram. But the BJP, which has already forged an alliance with the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) in Karnataka, may look to pacts with parties like the BRS, YSR Congress Party or even the TDP and its estranged ally AIADMK.

Such alliances could be consequential in 2024. While the INDIA grouping and the Congress cannot take the southern story for granted, without a stronger narrative they can't even begin to script a story in the Hindi heartland for 2024.

For the moment, regional allies will have to do the heavy lifting and the Congress needs to find a stronger narrative. State-specific narratives where it's taking the BJP head on without ignoring the smallest of small players.

(TM Veeraraghav is Executive Editor, NDTV)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.