What does INC’s Karnataka win mean
for 2024?

6 min readJun 1


The original version of the article was published on 24th May 2023 in “The Daily Guardian.

Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi alongside other Congress leaders, supporting “Nandini”, a local dairy brand.
Source: Twitter

The Indian National Congress (INC) won the Karnantaka elections by a landslide, securing 135 seats in the 224- member assembly with a vote share of around 42.9 per cent, making it their biggest victory in the state, both in terms of seat share and vote share since the 1989 elections.
The state also recorded the highest voter turnout in the history of legislative elections in the state, with a voter turnout of 73.19 per cent.
The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had wrestled power out of the hands of the Congress after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, was unable to retain power in the state and secured 66 seats with a vote share of 36 per cent. After the party’s performance in Karnataka, the big question that looms in everyone’s mind is whether the party will be able to translate this performance into gains at the national level as the country gears for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

How did INC secure its victory in Karnataka?

The Congress was able to increase its vote share in the state by around 5 per cent. The party secured 42.9 per cent of the votes in 2023, as compared to 38.4 per cent in 2018. In the 2018 Assembly Elections, Congress won only 80 seats while in the 2023 elections, it crossed the majority mark with 135 seats. The party registered its strongest performance in rural and semi-rural constituencies, although its vote share increased across all regions, including urban and semi-urban areas as compared to the last Assembly elections.

The party was also able to double its share in Lingayat-dominated regions, winning 42 out of the 65 seats dominated by the Lingayat community, as compared to the 20 it won in 2018.
One of the major reasons for the Congress’s victory in the state wascan be attributed to the fact that the party’s focused on local issues, while the BJP focused its campaign on national issues. Corruption was a major issue on the voters’ minds as the term of the incumbent BJP government was marred with a slew of large scale corruption allegations. The INC used the “40% sarkar” jibe against the BJP government at almost every public rally and roadshow, claiming that ministers and government officials across the state demand a 40 per cent “commision” from contractors.

The party also focused on the five guarantees it promised in its election manifesto, which included Gruha Jyothi, Gruha Lakshmi, Anna Bhagya, Yuva Nidhi and Shakti. Its freebie strategy included five major guarantees of Rs 2,000 per month to every woman head of a family; free bus passes for all women; Rs 3,000 for graduates and Rs 1,500 for diploma holders as unemployment monthly payment; 10 kilos of rice; and 200 units of free power to households, which played well with the voters of the state.
In addition to this, the party also criticized the BJP’s decision to remove the 4 per cent reservation for Muslims in the state, and said it would reinstate the same if voted to power. The party also promised to increase reservation for Schedule Caste from 15 to 17 per cent, and for Schedule Tribes from 3 per cent to 7 per cent. Similarly, the party also promised to restore minority reservation of 4 per cent and increase reservations for Lingayat, Vokkaliggas and other communities.

Political analysts also state that Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, which had one of its longest legs in Karnataka, covering 511 kilometeres covering seven districts and 20 Assembly constituencies in 21 days, also helped the party. The yatra played a key role in mobilizing the party’s cadre, while also helping Gandhi establish a connection with both voters and party workers. Analysts state that Gandhi refrained from his usual anti-Modi rhetoric and instead focused on interacting with people and understanding their issues on the ground, both of which played in the party’s favour.
Another major reason that, which can not be ignored is that the high level of anti-incumbency which also worked in the favour of the Congress. No incumbent party in the state has able to continue ruling in the past two decades, and this trend also continued in the 2023 elections. The BJP continued to fight the election on the basis of national issues, which did not work out in its favour.

Can state elections victory translate into a national victory?

The INC’s sweeping victory in the state has certainly boosted its morale not only for the upcoming elections due in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana later this year, but also for the 2024 national elections.
The party currently only has absolute rule over four states in India (the party is a coalition member in other state governments), and the upcoming state elections will be a true test of its capability to perform in the 2024 elections.

While it might be too soon to talk about whether the INC’s victory in Karnataka will translate into gains atin the national level, it is clear that the new strategy the party adopted while moving away from its Gandhi vs Modi narrative against the BJP seems to have worked in its favour.
The Congress, which won both state elections in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka this year, carried out campaigns which were rooted in local issues. In Himachal, the party focused on local issues of increasing unemployment, rising prices, poor administrative governance, and corruption allegations against the backdrop of alleged irregularities in police recruitment, teacher recruitment, and problems of farmers, helping it secure 48 out of the 60 seats in the Assembly. It followed a very similar campaign in Karnataka. However, it might be difficult for the party to replicate this campaign strategy in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where it needs to address several issues before the states head to polls. In Rajasthan, for instance, party would have to address the potentially-damaging bickering between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. Similarly, in the sensitive state of Chhattisgarh, the party has a formidable chief minister in Bhupesh Bhagel but also has several regional contenders for the top post, as per analysts.
In Madhya Pradesh, the party also faces a tough challenge in attempting to dethrone Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who remains popular despite allegations of scams.

In addition to this, when talking about the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it is very important to remember that the Indian electorate votes very differently when it comes to national and state- level elections. Since 2014, the Iindian voters have continued to support the Narendra Modi-led BJP at the national level, even when it has sufferednt huge losses at the state level, including in 2018 in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as well as its loss at the hands of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. While the Congress’s strategy so far has worked in two states, it will be important to see if the party is able to overcome its internal factionalism, as well as establish a credible narrative and face to take on the BJP in 2024. The upcoming state elections might be a good indicator of the Congress’ true abilities.

Shreya Maskara/New Delhi

Contributing reports by Yuvraaj Singh, Neha Rai and Shreya Iyer, Researchers at Polstrat

From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.

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Polstrat is a political consultancy aiming to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.