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Can Modi Swing It For BJP In Karnataka?

April 14, 2023 10:24 IST
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The BJP leadership knows it can't boast of governance in the state as the Bommai government has little to show.
So, the game plan is to project Modi, who will reiterate how important it is for a state to have the same party ruling in power at the Centre, observes Ramesh Menon.

IMAGE: Narendra D Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's primary electionm campaigner, addresses the Vijaya Sankalpa Yatra Mahasangama in Davangere, March 25, 2023. Photograph: Karnataka BJP/Twitter

The Karnataka assembly elections on May 10 will be critical for both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress as the results will determine how the political scenario will change in India.

State assembly elections are scheduled later this year in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Chhattisgarh.

Both these parties have to do well there too to create an environment for doing well in th next year's Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP knows it has to win Karnataka as it is presently the only southern state it rules.

A win will make it easier to spread their influence in the south where it has a poor presence and also shed the label of how it is primarily a North Indian party.

The BJP leadership knows it is battling incumbency in the state.

It knows that it cannot boast of its governance in the state as the government has little to show.

It knows that there are allegations of corruption by the Opposition are sticking.

It is not easy to wipe off charges by local contractors that they have to shell out 40 per cent as a kickback of what they were paid to execute state infrastructure projects.

Incumbency is a reality that the BJP has to battle as governance has been poor.

Voters are unhappy due to many reasons like poor infrastructure, rising corruption, communal incidents and pointless controversies like love jihad and the hijab ban that do not concern them.

The fact that no party in the state has won consecutive terms in the last 20 years also worries the BJP.

The BJP needs 125 seats for a comfortable majority in the 224-member assembly. It presently has 119 MLAs.

The BJP knows that the elections will be challenging as the party is driven with internal rivalries.

That is why Chief Minister Basavaraj S Bommai, who replaced the controversy-ridden B S Yediyurappa, has not been named as the chief ministerial face.

Both are eager contenders.

So, the game plan is to project Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, who will reiterate how important it is for a state to have the same party ruling in power at the Centre.

Modi is taking no chances. He visited the state seven times before the poll dates were announced.

This year, Modi has inaugurated over 50 development projects that involve an expenditure of over Rs one lakh crore.

The fact that the party has chosen not to project anyone as chief minister shows how jittery it is.

Predictably, Modi will be the face of the party during electioneering just the way it was in Gujarat.

IMAGE: Amit A Shah, the BJP's election strategist, along with Karanatka Chief Minister Basavaraj S Bommai at the installation of the statues of Jagjyoti Basavanna and Nadaprabhu Kempegowda at the Nadi Shaktikendra Vidhana Soudha. Photograph: Karnataka BJP/Twitter

Political analyst Yogendra Yadav says the BJP will try to use its money power to whip up propaganda and fall back on the usual polarisation strategy to sway voters.

The BJP has to also contend with a new group called Yeddelu Karnataka (Wake up, Karnataka) that comprises farmers, minorities, Dalits, secular bodies, democratically inclined institutions, Swaraj India supporters, and those who were associated with the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

As Yeddelu Karnataka has the potential to emerge as a significant pressure group, it cannot be dismissed as a fringe element by the BJP as it is planning to systematically get its foot soldiers to work in every constituency to neutralise fake news and propaganda apart from underlining the need to ensure that good and clean candidates win.

Hopefully, this initiative might catch the imagination of new voters and those who are fed up with communally charged campaigns.

Karnataka has had its politics pockmarked with defectors calling the shots for many years.

More than half of Bommai's cabinet has changed loyalties at some time or the other. Defectors play a significant role in Karnataka politics as ideology takes a back seat.

After election dates were announced, many switched sides sensing the winds blowing in their constituencies.

At a high-level meeting, the BJP leadership decided to rope all its top leaders from the northern states to campaign. Like they did in Gujarat. It will also pull in Union and state ministers, well-known MPs and MLAs.

The party's strategy is to concentrate on their winning chances on 115 constituencies that have been identified.

This includes difficult seats where it has much less traction than the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Randeep Surjewala and former chief minister Siddaramaiah attend an election strategy meeting. Photograph: Karnataka Congress/Twitter

The desperation to polarise voters was evident when BJP state president Navin Kumar Kateel told party workers in Mangaluru to avoid discussing issues like roads and sewage and instead talk of the dangers of love jihad, an imaginary concept the party has been flogging for years that dwells on how Muslim boys are luring Hindu girls to convert them after marriage.

Home Minister Amit A Shah also told an election rally that voters should decide whether they wanted to vote for a party that built the Ram Mandir or for those who supported Tipu Sultan.

As the BJP tenure in the state has been lacklustre with poor governance, the party has chosen to refrain from talking about it and instead concentrate on communal issues, identity politics and Hindutva to sway voters.

Political analysts say the BJP, which once parted ways with Yediyurappa, now desperately needs him as its mascot in the state to get the backing of the Lingayat community.

Bommai recently scrapped the 2% reservation quota for Muslims under the 2B category of the backward classes in the state and reallocated it to the powerful and influential Vokkaligas and Lingayats castes under the 2C and 2D categories hoping to get their support.

IMAGE: Amit A Shah and Basavaraj S Bommai in Devanahalli, March 4, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Congress hopes to emerge as the largest party as it is battling a weak BJP in the state grappling with internal problems and incumbency.

It is also hoped that the support and goodwill that Rahul Gandhi attracted during the Bharat Jodo Yatra would help.

Muslims comprise around 12 per cent of the state's population, but it would be split between the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular led by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda.

Even if the JD-S wins around 20 odd seats, it will become the kingmaker.

Earlier, the JD-S has been in coalition with Congress and the BJP depending on what is politically convenient at that point of time.

Muslims will play a role as they have clout in nearly 100 seats, but it remains to be seen if the Congress or the JD-S benefits.

The Congress has promised 200 units of free electricity, 10 kg office to BPL card holders, Rs 2,000 every month for women who head households and Rs 3,000 a month for unemployed graduates.

The Congress is also riven with factionalism. Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President D K Shivakumar are contenders for the chief minister's post in case the Congress wins.

It is no secret that the two factions of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar are at loggerheads. Both are busy drumming up support for themselves.

If both of them are not warring publicly right now, it is because Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has brokered a temporary peace.

It is a do-or-die election for both the BJP and the Congress. It is one of the most interesting contests that we will witness this year.

It might signal the change on the political horizon.

Ramesh Menon, award-winning journalist, educator, documentary film-maker and corporate trainer, is the author of Modi Demystified: The Making Of A Prime Minister.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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