By Arun Srivastava
During the last one month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited poll-bound Karnataka three times, notwithstanding the top leadership’s consistent reiteration that the state leaders would design and spearhead the campaign. Union home minister Amit Shah is also not far behind PM Modi. Shah has visited Karnataka for no fewer than half a dozen times. Modi and Shah focusing on Karnataka, though the assembly elections are still nearly 70 days away, underlines the importance of the victory of BJP in the state, described as the gateway to south.
Their visits make it explicit that while the BJP leadership is not willing take any chance, they intend to use Modi’s latest strategy to project achievements of his government. It is an open fact that the state BJP government, with Basavaraj Bommai as the chief minister, has lost its appeal and grace. People are critically unsatisfied with the performance of the Bommai government, which has unfortunately earned the reputation of a ‘commission government’.
Obviously, Modi or Shah cannot rely on Bommai to garner the peoples’ support. In this backdrop, it has become imperative for Modi and Shah to project their own gains and appeal to the voter to give them one more opportunity. It is indeed shocking that the neither the state nor the central leadership of the BJP has come out with any sustainable strategy to counter the allegations of corruption, communal politics, lack of development or welfare schemes, and bitter infighting.
On 12 January, Modi was in the state to kick off the National Youth Festival in Huballi, and on 19 January, he distributed hakku-patra or title deeds to the Lambani community. On Monday, he inaugurated India Energy Week 2023 in Bengaluru and the HAL helicopter facility in Tumakuru, and laid foundation stones for the Jal Jeevan Mission and other infrastructure projects worth Rs 2,750 crore. Only three days back, he again visited the HAL office at Tumakur. During his visits, Modi talked of development and growth.
One development is quite noticeable. Despite the polls being just over two months away, the streets and important places in Bengaluru do not giveoff signs of imminent elections. The people are yet to open up, while the national leaders of BJP have started making forays into the state. If there are no posters, buntings and banners and propaganda vehicles with blaring loud speakers, it is largely due to strict directives of the Election Commission.
Of the three major contenders in the fray — the Congress, the BJP and the JD(S) — the first two had some intense competition for tickets, the Congress more than the BJP. Interestingly, while the Congress leadership has been able to manage the crowd, the factional war in the BJP has emerged in a forceful manner. Its intensity could be gauged from the simple fact that Amit Shah had to openly pull up the leaders and warn them of consequences.
While the contest is sharp between the Congress and the BJP in urban areas, the JD(S) is a factor to reckon with in rural tracts of Mandya, Hassan, Mysore, Tumkur and Kolar, though not necessarily in all the constituencies in these districts. While Deve Gowda’s party has fielded most of the candidates who had won last time, when it had won 58 seats across the state, it now has had to find candidates for over 150 seats. The Gowda clan has also been facing internal rebellion from its own family members. Other members of the clan are not putting up well with Kumaraswamy.
Nevertheless, compliments ought to be given to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra for enjoining upon Modi to make a tactical shift from crude politics of hate and divisiveness to mixing development with nationalism. Though crude communal politics has made its home in the Kannad community, the BJP leaders are not sure that it would work in their favour this time.
However, the state leaders are still trying desperately to ignite the flame of communal hatred. They are also busy winning over the saints and priests of Lingayat and Vokkaliga. It is a known fact that aggressive Hindutva in Karnataka taken on a menacing character during the rule of the BJP. Minority communities are the worst victims of terror and repression by the Hindu bigots, who have unleashed oppression with the active connivance of the state machinery. The attack is not only of a political nature, but a sustained assault is being made on the societal relations and economic survival of the minorities. It is the livelihoods and culture of Muslims in Karnataka that are under attack. The controversy surrounding wearing of hijab by college-going girls has still been the haunting the minorities.
The BJP, till the Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Karnataka, was sure of winning the election on the strength of its politics of hatred. But now the situation appears to have changed. With Modi emphasising on development and growth, the local leaders have been forced to shift their stance.
For the BJP, winning the election is intertwined with its survival. It is manifest in deputing three Union ministers to supervise the election. Just a day ahead of Modi’s arrival, the BJP president J PNadda announced that the Minister for Education Dharmendra Pradhan will be party in-charge for the upcoming State Assembly elections, with Minister for Health and Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya and BJP Tamil Nadu president K. Annamalai as co-incharge, who must handle the bickering factions led by B S Yediyurappa and Chief Minister Bommai. It is also feared that a major chunk of RSS cadres would not rally behind Bommai. This would endanger the electoral prospect of the party.
The JD(S) is still a factor in the southern part of the state. Going by the ground level feedback, it appears that the backwards, Muslims and scheduled castes are inclined towards the Congress, unlike in the last election when the JD(S) was able to cut into this vote bank. In earlier election, Congress’s loss was the gain for the JD(S). The experts feel that the BSP, which cut into the Congress votes last time in a dozen odd constituencies, would not be able to do so this time.
As usual, the offer of freebies and revadis have come to dominate the campaign. Both the Congress and BJP are trying to woo voters with political promises, new schemes and gifts. So far, neither the BJP nor the Congress has declared their respective chief ministerial candidate. Some BJP leaders projecting the current chief minister Bommai as the leader has infuriated Yediyurappa followers.
It would be important to recall that, way back in 2018, the then BJP president, Amit Shah, announced Yediyurappa as the Chief Ministerial candidate of the party, more than a year prior to the election. This time the central leadership, in view of the prevailing feud, has been moving cautiously. Given the caste arithmetic in Karnataka elections, the party finds it necessary to ensure continued support of the Lingayats, increase its vote base among the Vokkaligas and non-dominant Backward Castes, and reach out to the Dalits and Tribals. In order to do that, the party thought it safe not to project a leader.
The Congress on its part has already organised two busayatras, one led by CLP leader Siddharamaiah, and another by the state PCC chief D K Shivkumar. The Congress leaders are hopeful that they will win the electoral battle. Nevertheless, they are not sure that Rahul Gandhi would undertake campaigning in the state. The perception has been hardened by Rahul skipping Tripura campaign. (IPA Service)