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PM Modi revs up BJP poll campaign in Karnataka, slams Congress culture of freebies

Pushing election campaign in Karnataka to anothern level, PM Modi addressed lakhs of BJP workers virtually

Taking election campaigning to a new high, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday addressed around 50 lakh BJP karyakartas across Karnataka by ‘virtual mode’, asking them to spread the word about the need for a “strong, stable, BJP government with full majority” in the state.

He exhorted the party workers to make people aware of the government’s programmes, both at the Centre and the state and explain at the booth level the advantages of “double engine governments” for speedy development. “The people of Karnataka are ready for such a BJP government breaking all records,” he noted confidently.

The karyakartas and state leaders were stationed at around 58,000 booths and 1,680 zilla panchayats. The prime minister’s speech was telecast live. It was perhaps for the first time that such a large political gathering had been assembled, reflecting both the strength of the party and adoption of technology on a big scale.

No warranty, no guarantee

Prime Minister Modi launched a blistering attack on the Congress party’s four ‘guarantees’ for the people of Karnataka, saying, “When the party’s warranty has expired, its guarantees have no meaning.”

He said the states were getting immersed in debt because of these freebies and “they don’t think about the future of the country, the future generations of the people of Karnataka, its youth and women” and urged the BJP workers to educate the people about the harmful effects of this ‘revdi culture.’

The prime minister’s speech is a precursor of his whirlwind campaigning across Karnataka which he is beginning on Saturday. He will be addressing about 20 public meetings and holding eight road shows during his intermittent visits in the next few days till the campaign ends on May 8.

In the last leg of the election campaign, the BJP’s national leaders are making a beeline to Karnataka, with the prime minister and the Union home minister and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath taking the lead. Amit Shah is camping in the Old Mysuru region for a week to boost the morale of BJP workers in this JD(S) stronghold and increase the BJP’s tally from 11 seats in 2018 to at least 25. Having twice crossed the 100 mark in two past elections and still fallen short of majority by a handful of seats, BJP is clearly targeting Old Mysuru and the contiguous areas of Bengaluru Rural and Bengaluru Urban as they account for as many as 89 seats.

Opportunity to new faces

As the campaign for Karnataka Assembly elections enters the final phase, with the nominations of all three major political parties, the BJP, Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) having been ‘locked’, it is abundantly clear that it is only the BJP which has given opportunities to large number of new faces, while the other two parties are relying heavily on traditional caste calculations and the “moneybags” to win these elections.

While the BJP sidelined nine ministers and former ministers, including bigwigs like Jagadish Shettar, Laxman Savadi and KS Eshwarappa, and replaced as many as 24 sitting MLAs with merit-based, long-serving party karyakarthas, no major leader was dropped by either Congress or the JD(S).

Though, initially, there were rebels galore, more so in the BJP which had effected maximum changes, the party leaders were able to persuade most rebels to withdraw in favour of the official candidates.

In JD(S), it’s a family affair

The JD(S), as expected, was more worried about tackling the intense rivalry among family members for party tickets than finalising its candidates’ list. HD Revanna’s wife, Bhavani’s insistence on contesting from Hassan nearly created a rift in the family as the tussle continued for almost two months and finally, the 90-year-old patriarch Deve Gowda had to intervene to resolve the issue.

Kumaraswamy shifted from Ramanagara to Channapatna to make way for his son, Nikhil, who had lost the Lok Sabha polls to actress Sumalatha Ambareesh in 2019, while Revanna would stand from party stronghold, Holenarasipura, which he has represented four times. Kumaraswamy stood firm against Bhavani’s entry into politics as he is dreaming of winning a good number of seats and becoming a king-maker or the king, and finally, Bhavani backed out respecting her father-in-law’s word.

In successive elections, the JD(S) has benefited by “netting” rebels from other parties at the last moment and this time too, it attracted around 20 former ministers and legislators like A B Malaka Reddy, A Manju, Anil Lad, Raghu Achar, Ayanur Manjunath and Manohar Thasildar, who could add to its tally of seats.

Sidda, Shiva face the heat

In a calculated move, the BJP has tried to tie down the Congress party’s two principal candidates and campaigners, Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar to their respective constituencies by putting two ministers against them. Revenue minister R Ashoka has filed his nomination against Shivakumar at Kanakapura, besides his traditional Padmanabhanagar constituency. Housing minister V Somanna has been fielded against Siddaramaiah at Varuna, besides Chamarajanagar.

In 2018, Siddaramaiah being chief minister, had contested from two constituencies, Chamundeshwari and Badami. While he lost at Chamundeshwari by a big margin, he scraped through Badami by 1,696 votes. This time too, he wanted to have the cushion of two seats and applied for Kolar and Varuna, but the party leadership did not concede his demand.

Feeling the heat of Somanna’s entry into Varuna, which has a large proportion of Lingayats, Siddaramaiah claimed that Somanna was an ‘outsider’ who had been sent to Varuna by the BJP to be a ‘scapegoat.’ Somanna hit back asking Siddaramaiah whether he was an ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ to Badami when he contested from there. The JD(S), which has no love lost for Siddaramaiah, has fielded Dr Bharati Shankar, former MLA so that he would take away a chunk of SC votes which might have gone to Siddaramaiah.

Having initially touted the induction of Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi, the two prominent Lingayat leaders from BJP into Congress as a “big catch” the Congress is gradually realising that they have no mass following and their exit has made no dent in BJP’s vote base among Lingayats. Besides, the BJP quickly drafted BS Yediyurappa to debunk Shettar and Savadi as “opportunists” who had enjoyed power for over two decades, but left BJP and joined the Congress the moment they were asked to make way for a new generation.

Considering that in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had secured an unprecedented 25 seats out of 28, the party leadership is determined to see that the prime minister’s charisma and influence percolate down to the Assembly elections as well on the back of “a double engine government.”

Indications are that it is certainly not out of reach of the BJP.