By Arun Srivastava
BJP Chanakya, Amit Shah’s permeating focus on Karnataka and his frequent visits to the state just three months ahead of the assembly elections underscore the political implication of winning the electoral battle for the Modi government. The defeat of the Karnataka BJP government will prove to be a bad omen personally for Narendra Modi ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Fear stricken Kannadigas who only a couple of months back were reluctant to express their feelings and speak against the corruption, which has virtually acquired the character of institution, thanks to the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi, have started mustering courage to speak out. This attitudinal change in the people has turned, even the ironman of BJP, Amit Shah scary. Something unusual to his style of campaigning when he used to claim that BJP would certainly win the elections with thumping majority, in Karnataka he has so far not come out any specific claim of the number of the seats the party would win.
Only last week while interacting with his party leaders and cadres at Belagavi, which has been in news during December for the border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka, Shah directed his party men to bury their differences before his next visit to the state and ensure that party wins all the 18 assembly seats in the district. In the 2018 election the BJP had won 10 seats. He refrained from boosting the morale of the leaders and cadres by refusing to specify the number of seats the party will win out of the total 224 seats which he generally does.
The reasons for the scepticism gripping the leadership are many, but it’s the bitter factional feud which has been the major cause of worry. Though not in so fierce manner, the supporters of the state BJP strongman B S Yediyurappa have been projecting him as the challenger to the chief minister B R Bommai They have chosen the election as the right opportunity for the refurbishment of his bruised image. They have made it clear that the party cannot aspire to win the election under Bommai, the chief minister.
Notwithstanding Narendra Modi and Amit Shah striving hard to use nationalism and religion as the only effective instruments for the growth and empowerment of the Kannadi people, unemployment, rising prices, inflation, farmer problems, farmer debts and MSP for agricultural products have surfaced as the most vivacious issues before the assembly polls.
Morning walkers in the city parks or women visiting the grocery shops share a common perception that Bharat Jodo Yatra has at least made them realise the futility of the communal hatred and violence. Anti-Muslim tirade of the BJP and RSS’s frontal organisations Bajrang Dal, Ram Senahave turned the lives of Kannadigas hell. They felt disenchanted with their politics of hatred but were scared of the repressive actions of the Hindu vigilantes. They had no alternative but to accept it as the fait accompli. Only recently a leader of Ram Sena Ravikumar Kokitkar suffered injuries after being shot at by unknown assailants using a pistol at Hindalga village near Belagavi. The Sena chief PramodMuthalik denounced the incident saying that the Sena’s workers stand for Hindutva and would not be intimidated by such attacks.
The endeavour of the RSS, which has deep penetration in the Kannadiga society, ever since the BJP government of B S Yediyurappa came to power, has been to pursue only one political line; polarise the Kannadiga society and alienate the Muslims. The Hijab controversy had become the most effective instrument to achieve their goal. This has indeed paid huge dividend. Standing on the ground prepared by the RSS in the state, BJP has replaced the Congress as the biggest political party.
The rise of the BJP also owes to the support extended to it by the religious pontiffs. Yediyurappa had acted as the fulcrum for making the Lingayat religious gurus and saints rally behind BJP. In July 2021, as news spread of the BJP’s plans to remove veteran leader B S Yediyurappa from the post of the chief minister of Karnataka, a group of 500 Lingayat seers gathered at the latter’s official home in Bengaluru to oppose the replacement of the Lingayat strongman.
The Lingayat Dingaleshwara Swami is also angry with the BJP government as its current chief minister Basavaraj Bommai for being averse to release of grants to the Balehosur Mutt. Only a week back the seer said; “Everyone knows about the levels of corruption in the state. Even a seer must pay a 30 per cent commission for funds to be released,” the Balehosur Mutt seer said at a public event.
Continuing with its goal to marginalize Yediyurappa, the leadership is frantically trying to woo Vokaligga seers and saints. The BJP is going to lure several Vokkaliga leaders from “panchayat to Parliament” into its fold from Old Mysuru region ahead of the election. There are seven Vokkaliga ministers in the Bommai government. The community has also been represented at the Centre. The BJP has traditionally been a weaker force in vokkaoliga community and won only nine in the 2018 Assembly polls. For winning over the trust of the Vokkaligas Amit Shah addressed a major rally at Mandya in the Old Mysuru last week. Vokkaligas account for at least 15 per cent of Karnataka’s population and are seen as the second-most influential vote bank in the state after the Lingayats.
Unfortunately for the BJP, the clash of interest between the two communities has acquired the character of caste clash. With the election knocking at the door, the BJP government is faced with the unpleasant demand for increasing the percentage of caste reservation from the Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Edigas, and Kurubas communities. Lingayats have further complicated the situation with their demand for giving them separate religion status.
Since Independence, the Lingayats and Vokkaligas have been controlling the levers of power, claiming to be the major communities in Karnataka. According to the Socio-Economic Caste Census conducted by the previous Congress government, Lingayats form 14 percent and Vokkaligas constitute 11 percent of the population. The Scheduled Castes and Muslim communities occupy the first and second slots with 19.5 percent and 16 percent respectively.
It is irony that in spite of having larger share of population the scheduled castes and Muslims are treated as the second class citizens. They have no political relevance in the state. All the political parties, whether it is BJP, Congress or JD(S) of Deve Gowda have been playing second fiddle to Vokkaliga and Lingayats. Even during the recent campaign over Hijab, no political party came out openly opposing the vigilantes attack on Muslims.
Though the people have started raising their voice against failure of the government to meet their basic needs, the major political parties are busy wooing the seers and weave a community combination to win the election. Like BJP the Congress is also a divided house. But the emergence of Mallikarjun Kharge as the top Congress leader at national level has caught the imagination of Dalits and backward castes. Muslims are also elated at this development. Yet another factor that is likely to boost the image and prospect of the Congress is its having strong leadership in Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar.
The sources however confide that the top leaders of BJP started taking special interest in Karnataka affair after the internal survey of the BJP pointed out that BJP will get 65 to 76 seats, Congress will get 108 to 114, JDS will get 24 to 30 seats. This has turned the BJP leadership nervous. Even the vote percentage of BJP has declined. The projected vote share is 34% for BJP, 40% for Congress, and 17% for JDS, whereas it was 36.35%, 38.14%, and 18.30% for BJP, Congress, and JDS, respectively, in the 2018 assembly elections. Congress has maximum support from Kuruba, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Muslim, and OBC communities, the report explained. Vokkaliga votes will be divided between JDS, Congress, BJP, and others, and the ratio of the divide is 50:38:10:2 in the Old Mysuru region, it observed.
The emergence of sub castes has turned the political scene quite complex. Most of the sub castes have carved out of the two dominant castes; Vokkaliga and Lingayat. The leaders and seers of these sub castes have their own priorities and agendas. In most of the cases it is the need of the people of these castes that define the agenda of these sub castes. The political parties are really finding it tough to handle these groups.
In the existing political scenario, the BJP is left with no other alternative but to give a fresh thrust to its nationalism issue and also revive the Hijab controversy. To understand true meaning of ‘hijab issue’ one needs to pay close attention to the way in which it’s being invoked by RSS to consolidate Hindu vote-bank
To understand the true meaning of the ‘hijab issue’ playing out in Karnataka and other states, one only needs to pay close attention to the way in which it is being invoked in poll-bound states by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders aiming to create and consolidate a Hindu vote-bank. RSS outfits have also started raising the issue of Uniform Civil Code. They plan to create a major pressure on the state government to bring a bill on this.
The shift in the Muslim mod towards Congress could be seen in Muslim leaders seeking more tickets to candidates belonging to the community. This was decided at a meeting of Muslim leaders which included former Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan, KPCC working president Saleem Ahmed, former ministers UT Khader, Tanveer Sait, B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan, Rahim Khan, former MP IG Sanadi, MLC Naseer Ahmed, among others.
However large scale complaints have been aired about deletion of the Muslim voters from the electoral rolls. While reacting to this as “conspiracy”, Saleem Ahmed said, “Voters are being shifted to different houses and booths, such irregularities have been found in Bidar, Vijayapura and Hubballi, other than Bengaluru.” Strange enough Muslim voters do not nurse soft corner for AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi. They feel division of votes will simply boost the electoral prospect of the BJP. The common voters feel that once Congress launches its campaign, the issues relating to day to day life would emerge in strident manner and occupy the centre stage. No doubt the voters have become wiser and are aware that the real contest is between the Congress and BJP.
People complain that the BJP government is so obsessed with its divisive and hatred politics that it has no time to take care of the civic needs. Civic apathy and crumbling infrastructure had eroded the image of Brand Bengaluru. (IPA Service)