Bengaluru: As the three weeks’ long campaign for the Karnataka Assembly elections, scheduled for May 10, winds down this evening, the mood is clearly upbeat in the ruling BJP, even as confusion reigns in the Congress and JD(S) camps.
Ground reports from across the state indicate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his whirlwind campaign in the last seven days, holding 18 public rallies in 19 districts, besides five mega roadshows, has given a big boost to the morale of BJP workers in Karnataka.
For the past six months or so, the Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government appeared to be on the back foot as the Congress leaders, Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, continuously and aggressively targeted it on alleged corruption, based on the state contractors’ association’s letter to the Prime Minister alleging that no government works were allotted without paying “40% commission.” Though the association president, Kempaiah, having links with the Congress party, failed to produce any concrete evidence despite repeated requests, the Congress leaders went to town putting up “payCM” posters all over Bengaluru city.
PM’s befitting reply to Congress
It was left to Prime Minister Modi to give a befitting reply to the Congress regarding the corruption jibe. He pointed out that late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had publicly noted that of every rupee given by the Centre to the states, only 15 paise reached the common man. “When he made the confession, Congress ruled the country from Parliament to the panchayat. Therefore, long back, the Congress leaders and workers had perfected the art of knocking off 85% commission,” PM Modi remarked. The state Congress leaders then shut their mouths as they had no reply.
When the state BJP leaders were struggling to convey to the voters the development works done by the government over the last four years, PM Modi stepped in once again to explain to the people the advantages of having a “double engine sarkar”, listing out all the projects and schemes worth thousands of crores being undertaken in Karnataka.
Union home minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma have also been actively involved in campaigning. Yogi, who draws the 350-year-old connection between a Vokkaliga mutt in Karnataka and his own Gorakhpur mutt, is popular among the people with his witty anecdotes.
Initial voter surveys had suggested that the Congress was ahead of the BJP in terms of winning seats, but the results could end up in a hung verdict with the JD(S), like in 2018, getting an opportunity to play either the ‘king’ or ‘king-maker.’ But, in the last few days, the balance appears to have tilted in favour of the BJP after the Prime Minister’s mammoth roadshows in Bengaluru, Mysuru and Kalburgi and the negative fallout of the Congress manifesto.
Appeasement politics boomerangs
Apprehensive of coming short of a majority, the Congress tried to use its election manifesto to woo the Muslim voters away from the JD(S) by resorting to blatant ‘appeasement politics.’ The party promised to ban BJP-affiliated Bajrang Dal along with the Islamic terror outfit, the People’s Front of India if voted to power. It ignited a huge controversy as the BJP leaders strongly protested against equating a nationalist organisation with a fundamentalist body and called it an “insult” to Lord Hanuman, who is also known as ‘Bajarangbali.’
The Prime Minister drove home the point by starting and concluding every campaign speech with ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Bajrangbali ki jai’, making those slogans echo back from the audience. Suddenly, in public meetings and roadshows held by the BJP, one can witness a sea of saffron-hued Bajrang Dal flags with a picture of Hanuman fluttering everywhere.
Put on the defensive, some Congress leaders have denied any plans to ban Bajrang Dal, while the Congress president, Mallikarjun Kharge himself has begun chanting ‘Bajrangbali ki jai”, saying he too loved Lord Hanuman.
It seems that a late realisation has dawned on the Congress leaders that its attempt to please the Muslim community could result in the consolidation of Hindu voters by the BJP, with a significant impact on its vote share. The party has now desperately gone in for damage control.
If the current wave in favour of the BJP is sustained until the polling day and the BJP workers at the mohalla and booth levels are able to motivate the people to come out and vote in significant numbers, this could turn out to be a ‘transformational election’ for BJP and give it a big boost ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections.