Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to launch his second round of two-day poll campaign in Karnataka on Tuesday.
Modi, the rank and file in the Karnataka BJP expects, will impact the outcome of the May 10 Assembly election in a big way.
The Prime Minister will visit the State on May 2 and 3. His final two-day visit is scheduled on May 6 and 7 covering the length and breadth of the State.
Modi kick-started the poll campaign in Karnataka on April 29 from Humnabad in Bidar and concluded with a road show in Msyuru on April 30.
That Modi is the single largest popular political leader in the State is a foregone conclusion. But the difference in this election is that the popularity has reached a new high. He is being talked about even by the average voter in the Vokkaliga belt, the stronghold of JD(S) in the Old Mysuru region.
`Yes, Modi is a good leader but their party has no base here,’ is the comment that many speak in the JD(S) belt. The BJP is leaving nothing to chance to improve its prospects in the Old Mysuru region, said to be its weakest link in the State.
Another and most significant difference in this poll, however, is Modi’s influence on the Assembly polls. In the past in 2014 and 2019 Modi’s influence on the Lok Sabha polls were unquestionable.
From 2004 to 2018, BJP prospects in Karnataka Assembly elections rallied around Yediyurappa. Probably, this is the first time that the entire rank and file of the Karnataka BJP depend on its national leader to influence State polls.
Karnataka was under the grip of Modi mania when it won 25 of the 28 Assembly seats besides the victory of an independent candidate backed by the BJP in the 2018. Since then the Prime Minister’s popularity has been reaching a new high in the State. With Yediyurappa retiring from electoral politics, it is Modi all the way as there is no pan Karnataka leader in the party.
Aware of this growing popularity of Modi, the BJP and the Karnataka government invited the Prime Minister seven times even before the poll dates were announced. Modi visited the State once after the poll dates were announced as well before launching his first two-day poll campaign on April 29.
Under constant attack from the Congress and the JD(S), the Basavaraj Bommai government was facing an uphill task to face the polls amid charges of corruption and maladministration.
These frequent visits of the Prime Minister to Karnataka since November 2022 not only improved the BJP prospects but also provided much needed impetus to the rank and file of the party.
The Prime Minister, a senior party leader says, will help to win at least 25 seats where the party has no hopes. That could put the BJP in a comfortable position to form the government. And not just this, the BJP’s vote share in the Vokkaliga belt is expected to improve drastically, a cause for concern to son of the soil, former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s JD(S) party.
Aware of the Prime Minister’s charisma, the Opposition parties, particularly the Congress has stepped up its campaign to match the boisterous Modi.
In a hurry to attack the PM, the Congress party provided a much needed handle to the BJP by hurling abuse at Modi. The BJP has since turned this personal attack on the Prime Minister as a poll issue.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge likening the Prime Minister a `Poisonous Snake,’ not only provided Modi to remind the people that the grand old party hates him because he is fighting corruption but also pointed out that 91 times the Congress hurled abuses at him. He didn’t forget to draw a parallel with the snake around Lord Eshwar and said: “I am a snake around the neck of Eshwar. For me, people of this country are as equal as the Lord.’’
On the eve of the Prime Minister’s second visit to the State, Priyank Kharge, son of Congress president termed Modi as “Nalayak beta’’ (useless son). In response to the Prime Minister’s appeal assuring the Banjara community that their own son is sitting in Delhi, Kharge junior said: “What is the use if the son is useless.’’
Modi is scheduled to visit Chitapur, the Assembly constituency from where Kharge junior is seeking a reelection on May 6. The BJP has fielded Manikat Rathod, a Banjara candidate against Priyank. Incidentally, a Banjara turncoat Dr Umesh Jadhav who defeated Kharge senior in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls also belongs to the Banjara community.
(The writer is a Bangalore-based journalist)