By Harihar Swarup
The campaign in Karnataka Assembly elections has touched a new low with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi descending to personal level. Such a low level of campaign has never been before seen. In no-holds-barred attack on each other, neither Modi nor Rahul talked of policies and programmes and what they proposed to do if their party comes to power.
Here are some examples:
Modi to Rahul Gandhi: “I challenge you to speak for 15 minutes on Congress achievement….. in Hindi, English or your mother tongue (Italian, reference to Sonia Gandhi) without holding papers in your hands.”
Rahul: “If I speak (in Lok Sabha), he (PM) will not be able to face the house even for 15 minutes; he will not be able to answer our querries and run away.”
PM: “You are just Naamdar (dynast) while I belong to the Kaamdar (working class). Congress ka kaam hai atkaana (obstructing), bhatkaana (misleading) and latkaana (delaying things). There is not a BJP wave in Karnataka, but a BJP storm.”
PM: “I’ve learnt there is a 2+1 formula in Karnataka. It is the political innovation of the CM who is sometimes awake but mostly asleep. He’s contesting from two seats and from where he contested earlier, he has made his son the escape goat.”
A Congress spokesperson thus replied to Modi: “Can you speak for five minutes without lying?”
With polling barely a week away, the poll outcome is unpredictable. But when the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa is compared with Chief Minister Siddarammaiah, Congress appears to be having an edge. In 2008, Yeddyurappa had become chief minister after the BJP won 110 of 224 seats in the assembly elections. However, the triumph did not last long. Factionalism and corruption charges broke the BJP. Yeddyurappa was indicted in a mining scam and jailed.
In the five-year BJP rule, the state saw three chief ministers. Yeddyurappa even quit the BJP and formed his own Karnataka Janata Party. However, after the 2013 assembly elections, where both the BJP and KJP fared badly, Yeddyurappa returned to the BJP.
Contesting to become CM for the second term, Siddarammaiah — a self described socialist—is counting on his welfare schemes to win him votes. A universal health care programme, and free rice and free milk subsidies are his big-ticket showpieces, policies that, he says, emerged from his own humble origin. He grew up in a village, 23 kms from Mysuru, and used to graze cattle as a child.
While his rise has been remarkable, today he shoulders a national responsibility; defeat in Karnataka could mean an existential crisis for the Congress and a morale crusher in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But if anyone can deliver a second term to the Congress, it is Siddarammaiah. He is the first chief minister in 40 years to complete his five-year term, and is clearly much more popular in the state than his party.
To challenge Siddarammaiah, the BJP is bound to focus on law and order track record of his government. These included the murder of activist Gauri Lankesh, the dramatic assault on the state’s Lokayukta and brute display of power by MLA NA Haris’s son.
Well aware of Siddarammaiah’s personal popularity, the BJP is banking on the charisma of the Prime Minister to get votes. Narendra Modi has already hit the campaign trail with as many as 16 rallies. But CM is unfazed. “Let Modi come 100 times. I am not worried”, he says, adding “admittedly, the BJP has revealed that it has no strong state leaders”.
Former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, may play spoiler and kingmaker. After the Prime Minister profusely praised Deve Gowda, there were speculations that former Prime Minister may join hands with the BJP. Deve Gowda, however, denied chance of a pact with the BJP. “May be by praising me, Modi wants to gain sympathy. That is all. That does not mean there is an understanding between BJP and my party”. Evidently, Gowda wants to be kingmaker in the event of a hung assembly.
The unpredictability of the May 12 elections has compelled Chief Minister to look for a “safer” second seat. He is bracing the battle on two fronts— Chamundeshwari in Mysuru and Badami in Bagalkot. Though he has won Chamundeshwari five times, this time winning again seems a daunting task.
Interestingly, some reports have apparently warned Siddaramaiah of Vokkalinga mobilization against him.
Recently, CM told his party workers to end the reign of HD Deve Gowda’s son in Hassan. This angered the Vokkalingas who consider Gowda their unquestionable leader.
A defeat would jeopardize Siddaramaiah’s chances of seeking a second term as CM, even if Congress gets a majority. A win will give Congress a new lease of life and make him Chief Minister. He however, believes his good work will help him win. (IPA Service)
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