Over the past 48 hours or so, an image showing Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi has been shared extensively over social media by Congress leaders, cadre and supporters in Karnataka. It contains three corresponding years – 1978, 1999 and 2019.
This is just not another banner. 1978 and 1999 correspond to the years when Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi contested and won Lok Sabha elections from Karnataka. The first in Chikmagalur and the second in Ballari.
The context is the clamour for Rahul Gandhi now to make a Karnataka his second battlefield this summer, after Amethi. And just so that it looks like the demand is coming from the ground, from the regional Congress netas and karyakartas, a chorus has started with the hashtag #RaGaFromKarnataka.
Among the frontline leaders who have populated this idea are Dinesh Gundu Rao, Siddaramaiah and G Parameshwara, pretty much the men who run the Congress in Karnataka. It is anyone’s guess if they have decided to tweet in unison after securing Rahul Gandhi’s nod or whether it is their brainwave, independent of Delhi’s approval.
Not that this has not been spoken of before. Even during the election campaign in Karnataka last summer, I heard Congress leaders talking of how it would benefit the party across the peninsula if Rahul Gandhi contested from Bidar in the Hyderabad-Karnatak region. The constituency is a Congress bastion, has a fair sprinkling of minorities and borders Telangana. The argument is that not only it would bring fresh energy into the entire backward region but also reinvigorate the sagging morale of the Congress next door. Given the number of MLAs who are hopping over to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti, it will be a matter of time before Telangana Assembly is almost Congress-mukt.
The argument put forth in asking Rahul to contest from Karnataka is also that it would be seen as an outreach of the national party in the south. Already the Congress president has accused the BJP of being north-focused and sees the south, barring Andhra and Telangana, as a fertile catchment area in the 2019 elections.
In addition to Karnataka, a section of the Congress in Tamil Nadu is offering to host Rahul as well. The reasoning is that Tamil Nadu has seen several online campaigns against Narendra Modi in the last year and this, the Congress believes, will adversely affect the BJP-AIADMK-PMK-DMDK alliance. Their confidence also stems from the Congress alliance with the DMK that it believes will ensure a victory for Rahul Gandhi. But would the Congress president want to depend on MK Stalin to ensure an entry into Parliament?
In 2014, Modi contested from both Varanasi and Vadodara. His presence in Uttar Pradesh galvanised the party, leading the BJP to victory in 71 seats in the state. The Congress hopes for similar traction in south India with Rahul Gandhi.
The flip side is the messaging it will have in Uttar Pradesh. The anti-Congress camp is bound to spread the word that Rahul Gandhi is scared of a defeat in Amethi and wants a safe constituency to secure his seat in the next Lok Sabha. It will be extremely embarrassing for the Congress if Rahul Gandhi ends up like Siddaramaiah. In the May 2018 elections in Karnataka, Siddaramaiah unsure of his chances in Chamundeswari in his home district of Mysuru, contested from Badami in Mumbai-Karnatak region as well. He lost the contest in Chamundeswari and just about scraped through in Badami.