Veteran of many electoral battles, Narendra Modi, has been forced to adopt a defensive strategy in the face of critical ethical attack from Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi. It may look like an incredulous argument, but the bare fact is it was in riposte to the aggressive attack from Priyanka at her rallies and the massive turn out at her road shows that turned the BJP leaders jittery and Modi finally acting as the vanguard of the BJP’s crusade against the Congress.
In the initial stage of the campaigning the central leaders, Modi and Amit Shah had entrusted the task to spearhead the onslaught on Congress to their Lingayat Strongman B S Yediyurappa and the chief minister Bommai. They were supposed to the casual visitors. The effect of Priyanka’s attack on the electoral prospect of the BJP could be gauged from the simple fact that when Manipur was burning and hundreds of poor Adivasis were being hounded out, Modi was busy marketing his as well as the electoral prospect of BJP. For him winning the Karnataka assembly election has attained more importance than dousing the ethnic violence in Manipur and protecting the lives of the poor people.
Modi has extraordinarily high stakes in Karnataka elections. Never in the past any prime minister had spent so many days for a state assembly election. We have seen how even Atal Behari Vajpayee would visit an election bound state only once and that was sufficient to turn the wind in the favour of the party. The manner and style of Modi’s campaign makes it sufficiently clear that first of all he does not have self confident that his campaigning would yield result and most importantly he does not intend to lose the electoral battle which would decide his future political career. In case BJP fails to win Karnataka election it will eclipse Modi’s chances for 2024 success.
It would be an act of naivete to comprehend that issue of Ram Temple, abrogating Article 370 and other achievements are sufficient to help the BJP to win the Karnataka battle. This is a war of narratives and ought to be seen indifferent perspective. A closer look at the battle of Karnataka would make it explicit that Modi is engaged in a fight to protect his image and grip on the national politics.
There is no denying the fact it is the wrong handling of the critical national issues and overt patronage to the fundamentalists that has pushed him to this stage. In case the BJP loses the Karnataka battle, Modi will lose much of his clout and grip on the party. This will also inspire the state satraps to raise their voice and heads much to the embarrassment of Modi. His change in his style is aimed at projecting him as his respect for peoples’ sensibilities. His rescheduling his rod show, instead of being one day affair to two day, is part of this strategy. He is working on the mission to win the Karnataka election at any cost.
BJP’s last leg of campaigning has been virtually a solo affair for Modi. This makes it also ostensible that he has no faith in other leaders of swinging the voters’ mood. It is unfortunate that no state BJP leader can claim to have an appeal to all communities. It is a known fact BJP has robust election machinery and has massive financial resources. There was no need for the party to get scared of the Congress challenge. In spite of this Modi is not willing to take the challenge flippantly.
Even after side-lining Yediyurappa, Modi and Amit Shah were confident to have the support of the Lingayats. But they were mistaken. Besides Yediyurappa episode what turned Lingayats against Modi and Shah has been the move to push Amul in the state. The farming community, a huge population of which is aligned to Lingayat, has turned hostile to the BJP. They perceived it as a move to turn the state into a colony.
These two factors were primarily responsible for Lingayats rallying behind the Congress. The Karnataka Veerashaiva and Lingayat Forum on Sunday extended its support in writing to the Congress and urged members of the community, constituting nearly a fifth of the 5.2 crore voters, to vote for the party in the upcoming elections. The decision has significance as the Congress has been trying to loosen the BJP’s grip over much of the community and win the members back.
The declaration was expected any day. It has not come as a surprise. The Lingayat community has been feeling aggrieved at the ill treatment meted out to Lingayat strongman, veteran BJP leader, B S Yediyurappa, former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi. Shettar and Savadi have joined Congress and are contesting from Hubli-Dharwad Central and Athani constituencies, respectively. Quite interestingly the statement from the group even went up to describing the BJP as Manuvadi. They nurse the perception that RSS has been dictating the terms from behind the screen. They urged the community to “teach a good lesson to the Manuvadis”.
Modi held roadshow on Saturday and Sunday. The BJP claimed that it was a massive show, lakhs of public participated, but the fact remains that both the shows were flop shows. BJP cadres and supporters were kept at some important points to shower flowers and rose petals on Modi to create the impression that he received rousing welcome from the people, the common man.
Modi an expert of distorting of the facts told the audience yesterday that Congress scared of defeat brought in its veteran leader Sonia Gandhi for campaigning in the Karnataka election after its “lies did not work”. While the fact remains that she was keeping away from the hectic politics as she was not keeping well for some time. She has to be frequently admitted to hospital. It was at the public insistence that she agreed to visit Karnataka and address a rally. However before addressing her election meeting in Karnataka she had walked with Rahul in Bharat Jodo Yatra.
The intensity of the fear of losing the election is so acute that Modi has taken the lead in floating the communal issue. But Modi and his ilk must realise that this time they cannot win Hindu votes only on the basis of polarisation. People need an explanation about their being involved in corruption and institutionalising the malaise. Hindus constitute 13% of Karnataka’s population. This is an important factor. Some RSS and BJP leaders have been striving hard to communalise and polarise the Hindu voters by raising the issue of Hijab, but they have miserably failed in their endeavour.
Before the election was announced the BJP could not comprehend that the corruption would overshadow Modi’s hate speech and religious thrust. Unfortunately for him as the campaigning picked up besides corruption the two other issues unemployment and poor work on infrastructure captured the centre stage. It became apparent that people of state are fed up with the BJP and its leadership. In the initial stage Modi harped on the gains of the state’s BJP government and promised the people of giving them moon. But realising the nature of hostility and people decrying the government as “40 per cent Sarkara”, he changed his strategy.
It was this realisation that forced Modi and Amit Shah to fall back on their old tasted campaign strategy; to make the religion an agenda. Experts emphasise that the Congress has provided the right ammunition to Modi by mentioning in its manifesto that its government would ban the Bajrang Dal. Modi grabbed the opportunity and twisted it that Congress was opposed to Bajrangbali, the Lord Hanuman.
As if Modi’s thrust on Bajrang Bali was not enough Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday asked the “rashtravadi samaj” (nationalist society) to defeat “supporters of the People’s Front of India” by chanting pro-Bajrangbali slogans and “Har Har Mahadev”, implicitly defining the Karnataka election as a Hindu-Muslim clash. He said; “Those who don’t like the concept of Ek Bharat Shreshth Bharat (One India Best India) want to free the PFI to undertake antisocial and anti-national activities and ban the followers of Lord Hanuman, the Bajrang Dal, which is committed to nationalism and is famous throughout the world for social service”.
Modi has put his hopes on the migrant labourers and the urban middle class people associated with the IT sector. This is the reason that he has been raising the religious issues. If the party sources are to be believed even the BJP supporters of coastal areas are not happy with his campaign. Modi’s ability to reverse these trends will be critical to the BJP’s success. Usually, turnout of the urban middle class voters has always been relatively less. His oratory skill is on test, how far it succeeds in conjuring the middle class non-Kannada speaking population, who constitute a sizeable section to come out and vote for him. (IPA Service)