How Siddaramaiah is turning Karnataka poll battle into regionalism vs BJP's nationalism

21 April 2018, 12:05 PM

There is no wave either in favour or against the three key players – ruling Congress, challenger BJP and the possible king-maker in Janata Dal (Secular) – in the coming Karnataka Assembly general elections, polling for which will take place on May 12. 

Who among the main contenders – the ruling Congress, the BJP or the JD (S) – touches the magic mark of 113 for a simple majority will be revealed when votes for the 224-seat Karnataka Assembly are taken up on May 15. 

As campaigning picked up pace in the only state in South India where the ruling party at Centre, the BJP, is a serious player, it is banking on its star campaigner in Prime Minister Narendra Modi to whip up passions in favour of his party’s chief ministerial face BS Yeddyurappa

For the present, the BJP is finding the going tough in Karnataka, a state that historically has a tendency to vote out an incumbent, with Yedddyurappa unable to cash in on sentiments against ruling Congress and Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah.

What has become an advantage for the Congress is that Siddaramaiah is the last word in the party in Karnataka, even when it came to candidate selection and poll strategy and campaigning, unlike in the BJP which is running the battle from its New Delhi headquarters. 

It is not for nothing that Yeddyurappa and his supporters are finding it difficult to counter Siddaramaiah’s narrative based on Kannada pride and the manner in which he has managed to paint the Central government as the villain.

His googlies – picking up the Kannada language or opposition to Hindi found resonance with the Kannadigas or painting the Centre as a step-mother favouring North Indian states or the most recent one of granting minority religious status to the powerful Lingayat community – have foxed the local leadership of the BJP and it is left with reacting to the agenda set by Siddaramaiah. 

Even on the Cauvery battle with neighbouring Tamil Nadu, that is up in protests, the chief minister has managed to present the Supreme Court verdict that reduced water supply to Tamil Nadu as a success of his government even as the Centre has been left with the responsibility of forming a Cauvery Management Board, something that is perceived by the voters as damaging to Karnataka interests. 

The central government, rapped by Supreme Court for its failure to form the CMB, is trying its best to drag the issue till the polling is completed on May 12. 

Finding on a weaker wicket, the state BJP is hoping for its pinch hitter to come to the rescue of the team, like he did in Gujarat assembly elections at the fag-end of campaigning and staved off a determined Congress onslaught and retained the state, narrowly. Had Modi not unleashed his eleventh hour or slog over hitting, the BJP may have lost its bastions. 

Siddaramaiah has turned the Karnataka assembly polls into a fierce regionalism versus BJP’s brand of nationalism, making it difficult for his principal opponents to effectively puncture this narrative.

The BJP is trying to make corruption its main planks – with all its leaders painting Karnataka Congress government as the most corrupt in the country.

BJP national president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his previous visits to the state, described the Siddaramaiah government as the 10-per cent government to drill home the point that nothing works in Karnataka other than a 10 per cent commission. 

The one problem with the BJP poll plank of corruption is that Yeddyurappa as the CM face weakens this plank as he was, in people’s perception, infamously immersed in corruption and his governance found wanting on different fronts. 

On this score, Siddaramaiah too is guilty, but in the run up to the polls in over a year, his government tried to project its programmes and also came out with welfare schemes like food for the poor – Indira Canteens on the lines of the hugely successful Amma canteens of Tamil Nadu, to cite an example. 

With elections less than one month away, even as the two biggies fight it out, the Karnataka regional party of former prime minister Deve Gowda is quietly plotting to queer the pitch for both the players.

A top Karnataka bureaucrat pegged the numbers of JD (S) between a modest 35 to a high outer figure of 60, something that the pre-poll surveys too are hinting at. 

Notwithstanding the claims of chief minister and senior Congress leaders, the Karnataka ruling party could fall below the magic number of 113 and will have to do business with Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy, after all the votes are counted. But by virtue of being in power at the Centre, it is a game in which the BJP has gained expertise, as recent government formations elsewhere have shown. 

Indications from the ground are of a hung assembly, with the Congress slightly ahead of the rest. So, the Karnataka general elections too could go down to the wire, like the 20-20 IPL matches, and for the answer to the question who will form the government will have to wait for post-poll “agreements”. 

First Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 03:11 PM
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