After Himachal Pradesh, the Indian National Congress’ thumping victory in Karnataka appears to have set a positive momentum for the party ahead of 2024 general elections. Before that, the INC will also face off with the BJP in assembly elections for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — the three states that the INC had won in 2018. In the recent Karnataka assembly elections, the Congress won 135 out of the 224 legislative assembly seats, up from 80 seats in 2018. The vote share of the party also increased substantially from 38 per cent to 43 per cent over the same period. At the same time, the BJP, which has been ambitiously eying to make inroads in the politics of southern India, with Karnataka as its gateway, has received a serious setback. The vote share of the saffron party marginally declined from 36.22 per cent in 2018 to 35.97, but the dip in the number of seats is rather huge — from 104 in 2018 assembly elections to just 66 in the recent polls. This all comes in the penultimate year of general elections. Even the rigorous campaigning by the Prime Minister couldn’t counter the massive anti-incumbency factor against the BJP. Karnataka, afterall, enjoys the reputation of not repeating the incumbents in the state. The victory in the 2023 assembly elections is not just important for the INC, but also bodes well for the overall national politics of the country. It gives an assurance that single-party dominance at the national level may still be a far-off possibility. For the last couple of years, the INC could be seen losing its lustre and political appetite. But the optics in the recently concluded assembly elections was entirely different. Even before the results were declared, the election campaigning of the INC seemed more strategically planned and vigorous. In particular, its effort to reach out to various communities, including Dalits, minorities, and farmers has been commendable. In fact, the Congress managed to break free from the shackles of a perception woven by the BJP that it is non-considerate towards the backward classes. The INC not just defended itself against the charge but also rolled out a counter-offensive, trapping the BJP in its self-mastered game. The party also successfully kept its house in order to make sure no major rift emerges internally. The Congress’ victory in Karnataka is likely to boost the morale of the party workers across the country. It shows that the party still has the ability to connect with voters and win elections, particularly when it focuses on issues that matter to the people. While the victory presents umpteen opportunities for the Congress, the party certainly does face challenges. Karnataka has seen three Chief Ministers during the last five years, and is looking forward to a stable political situation. The leader of the opposition, Siddaramaiah, and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president, DK Shivakumar, are two important faces who have contributed quite significantly to the Congress’ win. They both are learnt to hold the ambition for securing chief ministership. It will be interesting to see how the Congress’ leadership deals with the situation. Another important challenge will be to build on this new-found momentum in the upcoming assembly elections in certain states and the 2024 general election. As the electoral compass shifts northwards, the INC will have to exhibit extra vigilance because the BJP finds greater resonance in the Hindi heartland. Most importantly, the INC must work hard to deliver on its promises to the people of Karnataka and facilitate inclusive development in the state. This will help the party regain its somewhat maligned credibility. At the same time, the BJP has still bigger lessons to learn. Its trump cards — the Hindutva trigger and Prime Minister’s face — have failed to deliver this time around. The time may come soon when rationality will get priority over rhetoric of various types. The saffron party may like to realign its priorities!