Will the BJP succeed in grabbing power in Karnataka?
Source :NewsBharati   Date :04-May-2018

When the election scene in Karnataka was just beginning hot up, an impression was spread throughout the state and even outside-with a grateful media doing its bit-that a Congress victory was just a formality with CM Siddarmaiah leading it as the undisputed, tallest leader of Karnataka. Within a few weeks, however, the bravado has gone totally missing. The cockiness has given way to uncertainty and anxiety in the Congress camp.

 
From a near invincible position of the Congress party, the BJP has clawed back into the electoral battle, where it is displaying palpable confidence, of besting the Congress at the hustings on May 12.

What are the factors that have contributed to this steadily developing change? One cannot, with certainty, put a finger on one or a couple of them. Pollsters outside the state will quickly discount anti-incumbency and are likely to go along with the carefully woven narrative in the media in Karnataka that Siddaramaiah is the most popular backward class CM the state has ever had. This narrative said, till recently, that the people of the state are happy to vote him in for a second term. Of course, the really popular CM the Congress party has ever had was indisputably, S. M. Krishna.

Before we go any further, it is necessary to become acquainted with how the Congress party and its chief minister have gone about creating a strong, media-induced illusion that Karnataka will give a positive vote in favour of both him and his party. Early in the campaign, they had understood the need to have the print and visual media, besides the social media on their side.

It would shock many readers to know that around Rs 500 cr has been systematically paid out to all newspapers, TV channels and websites from the government coffers, to build up the party's narrative that Siddaramaiah is the most progressive, development-obsessed CM Karnataka was lucky to be blessed with. Day after day, newspapers carried full page ads extolling his virtues and lauding his commitment to the total welfare of each and every stratum of Karnataka's populace. Newpapers and TV channels never had it so good. Money was literally pouring into their accounts.

Naturally, even the most critical among them, of the rampant corruption and misrule in the state, began churning out stories highlighting debatable actions as outstanding achievements of Siddaramaiah personally, with “opinion pieces” painting false narratives as setbacks for the BJP. Just one example of this apparently successful strategy: The decision to accord separate religion status to the Lingayat community (Shiva worshiping Hindus) by the Congress party and the government was hailed by almost the entire media as a masterstroke, which would surely strike a mortal blow to the BJP in its “catchment area” (Northern Karnataka with more than 100 assembly seats)!

In Bangalore city alone- it was widely publicised- nearly Rs 1000 cr. was being expended-within 70 days!-for new civic works and completion of all pending/incomplete projects. It is a different matter that Bangalore today is a picture of a bombed out city with roads, footpaths and drains hideously dug out with no prospect of immediate salvage! Hundreds of crores are already paid out to contractors, who too are glad to pass on the loot back to the party's khazana. Today, the paurakarmikas have announced their decision to strike work of garbage collection in the entire city as the government owes them salaries for six months!

Police and civil administration have been shuffled around with gay abandon to meet the party’s political aims with honest and uncompromising officers bearing the brunt of the political machinations. A couple of the bolder among them have successfully challenged the government in the Election Commission and the High Court.

If these machinations have been carried out on the administrative side, on the political side too several policies and actions the Congress government has initiated have dangerous implications for the unity and integrity of the Indian state itself. They are also very likely to damage the socio-cultural ethos of the state, the bedrock of which has always been peaceful co-habitation and robust inter-mingling among societies.

 

The so called master stroke of Siddaramaiah, viz.declaring that Lingayats are a separate religious minority and are entitled to reservations, has actually put the entire Shaivite community into an unprecedented maelstrom. And Siddaramaiah can rightfully be accused of trying to reap a political harvest, which earlier CMs were too wary of even contemplating!

Siddaramaiah is also guilty of open and often shameless pursuing of vote bank politics by adopting minority appeasement as his government's stated policy, particularly in the coastal districts of Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. His hobnobbing with PFI and its political wing, SDPI has encouraged extremist elements among their Muslim followers, including Mullahs and Maulanas to even resort to violence and disharmonious propaganda, usually resulting in political murders of Hindu youths!

All the while the Siddaramaiah administration has only winked at them, doing precious little to stem the dangerous slide into communal discord of a scale these districts have never witnessed in the past.

He even took the bizarre step of asking all the police stations in the state to prepare lists of Muslim youths, who have been arrested on charges of riots, hate speeches, and such other crimes, so that he can take steps to release them unconditionally!. Here is a telling piece of news report carried by The New Indian Express on 26th of April, which graphically describes the anger and feeling of (political) loss:

“Dr. Haneef Shabab, former general secretary of the Majlis-e-Islah, said, 'we, the Tanzeem of Bhatkal, are disappointed with Siddaramaiah’s ways of handling communally sensitive issues. BJP will win Bhatkal (Uttara Kannada Dist) and Congress has only itself to blame. What was the need to pass an order to clear names of only Muslims (for release) in communal riot cases? This differential treatment has angered Hindus who will consolidate”.

The same report also quoted Dr. Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst, agreeing that ‘the current government and its leader have become a new channel for polarisation’!

Polarisation in fact has received unabashed boost from the Congress government in all districts, but notably in the coastal region. In fact, sections of Muslims have been encouraged to militantly oppose the RSS, VHP, Bhajrang Dal etc. by leaders like Ramanath Rai, who is a an MLA from the most communally sensitive assembly constituency of the state, Bantwal (near Mangalore), and a minister in the state. As a result, murders and counter murders have taken place regularly under his watch, so to say! In fact, Home Minister, Ramalinga Reddy characterised Dakshina Kannada district as a terrorist factory!

As if this were not enough, Siddaramaiah has also taken it upon himself to resurrect Tipu Sultan with an image make-over, completely whitewashing him with a secular paint, much to the dismay of people of Kanara and Coorg districts, where stories of Tipu's extreme anti-Hindu and anti-Christian depredations, including forced conversions and imprisonment of thousands have become folklore. A more shameless piece of minority appeasement will be hard to find in Karnataka. Sadly, historians of doubtful integrity and scholarship, have sided with Siddaramaiah with great alacrity!

Unfortunately, while the seculars and liberals have always accused the BJP/RSS of stoking the communal fires at every opportunity, here on the Karnataka coast, the boot is on the other foot, with the Hindutva forces raising their voice about the alarming situation! Yet, the Congress has been carrying on with more of the same with a couldn't – care - less sanguinity.

 

Another area where the state has fared rather poorly is the law and order situation. Increasingly, anti-social elements are getting emboldened to carry out kidnappings, bank/ATM heists, robberies and dacoity with impunity. Fear of the police is non-existent and in several instances police have been attacked and their weapons snatched without the home minister getting unduly perturbed at the alarming situation.

All these fact files may, in simplistic terms, indicate that the people are fed up with the adverse situation and are ready for a regime change. But ground realities make it extremely hazardous for even the most experienced psephologist or political analyst to say that the BJP will win this election even with a wafer thin majority. If you ask me what are these “ground realities”, I would unhesitatingly say that the minorities are openly hostile to the BJP and will surely use their numbers tactically with the sole aim of defeating the BJP at any cost.

Contrasting this reality, the Hindus, though willing to wound, are afraid to hurt the Congress. They are also divided into castes and other social groups. The Dalits, labour classes and the poor from all castes are expected to go with the dominant leader of their area, who is also flush with the 'moolah'.

But it is also a reality that Hindus seem to have caught on with the thing called strategic voting with the sole aim to defeat the Congress, which has totally ignored Hindu sentiments in the last five years. For this reason alone, the JDS is likely to lose out to the BJP candidates in three cornered contests.

Another significant ‘ground reality’ is the power money brings with it. Over $1Billion has gone into making this election one of the costliest in the country. Even the PFI and its nameless associates have brought in huge amounts of money through the porous border with Kerala, to finance their movement!

Above all, Prime Minister Modi will make the difference between victory and defeat for the BJP. As we have seen on 1st May and again on 3rd May, he has been grandly successful in connecting with the large crowds present in all the six mega rallies that he addressed. If the trend holds, we may be looking at a very significant swing of 3%-4% of votes, enough to take the BJP over the hump.

Cutting a long narrative short and banking on my own experience, observations and hunches, besides of course the undeniable factor of Modi Magic, I have drawn a likely picture that will emerge on 15th of May.

REGION-WISE PROJECTIONS FOR BJP

 

NAME OF THE REGION

TOTAL NO. OF SEATS

NO. OF SEATS WON IN 2013

No.OF SEATS LIKELY TO BE WON

IN 2018

1. BANGALORE

32

12

20

2. BOMBAY KARNATAKA

50

13

31

3.HYDERABAD KARNATAKA

36

05

18

4.COASTAL KARNATAKA

19

03

13

5.MALNAD

21

04

13

6.CENTRAL & OLD MYSORE REGION

66

03

25

TOTAL

224

40

120

This, of course, is a conservative guesstimate and we will have to wait till 15th of May to know, whether BJP will grab Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore.