Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading the election campaign in Karnataka along with several other BJP leaders like BJP president Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Both Congress and BJP are trying their level best to put forward their voices, but Karnataka voters may not be in a mood to give any chance to BJP. As the elections for Karnataka Assembly polls approaches near, both BJP and Congress are entangled in a no-holds-barred political slugfest to win the elections in the southern state, which goes to poll on May 12. The BJP tried to pin down the Congress citing corruption, but that did not gain traction among the people as allegations were not backed by concrete evidence. The BJP has now reverted to its old mantra of hardline Hindutva strategy and polarisation of votes on communal lines. On the inside too, the party is weak. Hostilities among leaders have left supporters demoralised. Also, not many have endorsed B S Yeddyurappa as the chief ministerial candidate. While the BJP continues to flash the Hindutva card, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government is playing the development card for a change. Modi is going forward with personal attacks, whereas Rahul Gandhi said that he will not make any personal comments against the PM. Modiji was talking about Congress-mukt Bharat, whereas Rahul said, “I don’t want Indian politics to go BJP-mukt.” Somewhere Congress gave a much more matured show but in BJP, everyone landed up giving loose talks including the Prime Minister.
Siddaramaiah has not only unleashed a social media and advertising campaign to highlight the achievements of his government but has also hit the bullseye by splitting the Lingayats — a numerically dominant community that usually rallied behind the BJP. By consolidating his Ahinda (Kannada acronym for Dalits, backward classes and minorities) vote bank, Siddaramaiah has also been blaming the Modi government for the state’s ills — be it the Mahadayi and Cauvery water row or issues faced by the farmers in the state. Siddaramaiah’s bold rhetoric has alarmed the BJP strategists, who continue to struggle to find an appropriate narrative to take on the Congress. BJP delivered one of the worst performing governments in the state, mired in rampant corruption and riven by dissidence. Their chief minister was changed thrice as factional fights pushed governance to the backburner. Ultimately, the party split into three parts in 2013. Desperation has now brought these groups together.
Yeddyurappa became the first former Chief Minister to be jailed. His cabinet colleagues, the Reddy brothers who rode the mining wave in Bellary, also landed in jail. Other influential ministers, Katta Subramanya Naidu and Krishnaiah Setty were also imprisoned for corruption. Former-minister Halappa went to the jail on rape charges while three other ministers resigned when they were caught watching pornography in the Assembly. Overall, when one thinks of the BJP’s stint in power, it’s hard for people to summon up positive images. Moreover, BJP has already declared Yeddyurappa as its CM candidate. He is widely seen to be past his prime, and is unlikely to rally the support he received in 2008. His jail term and the performance of his government have eroded his appeal significantly. The recent by-poll victories for the Congress in Nanjangud and Gundlupet, seats dominated by the Lingayats, where Yeddyurappa campaigned for weeks, are an indication of his diminished hold. Moreover, BJP has doubled down on divisive Hindutva and coarsened the political discourse. This does not work in Karnataka which is a liberal, peace-loving state. Apart from pockets of the coast and hills, hardline communal campaigning by Yogi Adityanath and Ananth Kumar Hegde will generate a backlash against the BJP.
Lokniti (CSDS) revealed that at least half of those surveyed (mostly Hindus) said that they count Muslims among their close friends. The cosmopolitan nature of the urban Karnataka has always resisted the Sangh Parivar’s regressive agenda. Youth and professionals do not want their freedoms taken away. People were repulsed by the right wing’s celebration of the murder of Gauri Lankesh, an influential Kannada journalist.
In the last one month, Adityanath has made two noisy visits to Karnataka, accusing the Congress government of being anti-Hindu and reminding people that the state was the abode of Lord Hanuman. Adityanath was a “star campaigner” in Assembly election in Gujarat where he addressed 35 rallies. If the BJP is to be believed, he transported audiences there into such a phantasmagorical world that they voted for the party without question. He is sure to be a “star campaigner” in Karnataka as well and wave his magic wand. But therein lays the problem. In Karnataka, his campaign may have the opposite effect.
Karnataka’s voters aren’t ready and willing to fall for Adityanath’s Hindutva humbug. A little understanding of the history of elections in Karnataka and a peek into the mind of the state’s average voter would make it amply clear that Karnataka is not Gujarat. It’s difficult to believe that BJP president Amit Shah, who is to elections what Einstein was to physics, is unaware of this. Shah can’t possibly forget that the BJP lost badly in places visited by Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat and the “star campaigner” in Karnataka during the state’s previous Assembly elections in 2013. But just a year later, during the Lok Sabha elections, when he made four visits and addressed a dozen rallies, the BJP won 17 of the state’s 28 Lok Sabha seats. There is a lesson for the BJP to learn from this. In 2013, voters wanted to throw out the state’s BJP government because of corruption scams involving its chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, as also infighting, political instability, moral policing by its cadres, and several other reasons. Even Modi was of no help though he was popular among a section of the voters in Karnataka by then. At that point, most voters saw no sense in returning BJP to power. But a year later, it made enough sense for them to have Modi as the Prime Minister. Voters choosing one party at the Centre and another at the state government level is very typical of Karnataka. So, if the BJP is unlucky enough to lose the upcoming Assembly election, it can hope to do well in the Lok Sabha polls next year.
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