India’s political landscape is alive again with new possibilities after the southern state of Karnataka swept the supremacist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party from power in recent lower house elections and elected the long-struggling Congress party.

the Decisive defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party In Karnataka, southern India is now free of BJP rule — dashing hopes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party of using the state as a gateway to a part of the country it has largely failed to win over. It is a stinging rebuke to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been saying it wants to free India from Congress.

contain defeat other messages also. One cannot forget that Modi’s multiple rallies and promotions in Karnataka focused on telling voters over and over again that the Congress should be punished for insulting him. Thus, Modi turned the elections into a referendum on himself. was rejected.

In most of the constituencies in which he campaigned, his party lost, which affected his carefully built and indomitable image. He is trying to distract the public by flooding TV screens with images of a rally where he addressed the Indian community in Australia, but the damage has been done.

Led by Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party has run a campaign that builds on that strongly on dog whistles and direct references to Muslims, and the portrayal of India’s largest religious minority – 200 million people – as a threat. Modi also used a highly controversial anti-Islam film that was released strategically when the campaign began. But this too was denied.

Significant is the Congress party’s reaffirmation of its secular bent during the campaign, including its suggestion that it might ban the Bajrang Dal, one of the most hardline arms of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent body of the Hindu-supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party. Muslims and Christians, who have long suffered from the violence of the Bajrang Dal, have accepted it as a matter of fact that they must live with this violence regardless of the ruling political party.

Not anymore.

The new Congress government in the state has announced that it will repeal the previous BJP administration Hijab ban in educational institutions – a step that reassured Muslims their cultural rights would be protected and respected. Priyank Karg, a minister in the new government, has also said that the controversial ban on slaughtering cows will be reviewed: the ban was used by the ousted BJP government to harass and persecute Muslims but also hurt the rural economy.

The return of the rule of law is indeed welcome. But it will be a great challenge for the new government to cleanse the state of the majority toxins achieved by the previous government in Karnataka society. How it succeeds or fails will provide vital clues to the struggle the rest of India faces to reverse the loss of its secular national identity since Modi came to power in 2014.

After all, it is not just the Bajrang Dal but the BJP itself – along with its many fraternal organizations and informal networks – that are working day and night to transform Hindu communities into a unified anti-minority bloc. However, the state government’s pursuit of the law as per the Indian constitution would make the daily lives of religious minorities much easier.

Not only the defeat of the BJP but the decisive victory of the Congress was significant as many analysts began to write off the big old party in India. It will boost party morale in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, where legislative elections are scheduled for later this year.

The Karnataka state elections also put a stamp on the authority Malecargon is out, the new president of the Congress Party. His leadership of the front during the campaign proved wrong those who claimed that he was a mere puppet of the Nehru-Gandhi family that had dominated the Congress party – and indeed Indian politics – for most of the past 75 years.

A Dalit, Karg played a leading role in the government making process in the state and emerged as a team leader. He is a courageous orator and seems to have brought a sense of purpose to organizing a party which in many ways had previously seemed disorganized.

The effects are great.

Congress remains the only political party with an all-India presence that can take on the BJP. Its marginalization and destruction would have made it very difficult for the coalition of opposition parties to appear credible to the electorate, when they chose their next national government in the 2024 parliamentary elections.

This victory has confirmed to the regional parties why the Congress must remain the fulcrum of any opposition national front if it is to present a credible alternative to the BJP.

But the obstacles to the national opposition are many and formidable. The first is the breakdown of the independence of constitutional authorities – from the Electoral Commission to the courts to law enforcement agencies. Instead of ensuring a level playing field and acting as checks and balances against the executive, these once sacred institutions are today hollow shells, increasingly partisan, and often overt, towards the BJP.

The mainstream media campaigns against the opposition and conducts propaganda for the ruling party. The corporate bosses – who also control the media – have not yet given up on the Bharatiya Janata Party and significant election funding goes to Modi’s party, while the opposition is starved of cash.

In the coming year, India will see an escalation of anti-Muslim and anti-minority rhetoric. This is a time-tested electoral board for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The people of Karnataka have shown that the secular appeal can still find ears and translate into sounds. The big question is whether the rest of India will heed and join the example of the South in restoring India as a country for all with equal rights.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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