Karnataka Election Could See Much-Needed Sizzle With Modi Rallies

Published: April 30, 2018 21:29 IST
Was Sunday evening's hailstorm in Bengaluru that broke a long heat wave a portent of change? Did it indicate that this dreary assembly election which has been dragging on since the beginning of the year will finally spark up -- and could Modi be what ignites it?

If recent elections in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are any indication, that is exactly what will happen starting tomorrow when PM Modi launches his 15 rallies over five days. Whatever one's political predilections, Modi is without doubt leagues ahead of the rest of the pack in campaigning. In Gujarat, he managed to turn a certain loss into a small and face-saving victory. And it is his unbeatable ability to reach out to voters that makes him all-powerful in the BJP.

So far in Karnataka, the sound and fury of an Indian election missing. No posters, banners, no corner meetings. Yes, there are political rallies, social media wars and TV ads, but no one seems particularly excited about the election.

Of the three contenders for chief minister, the BJP's BS Yeddyurappa looks like a tired warhorse. If the BJP comes to power, it will not be his victory nor may he spend much time as Chief Minister.

But can the Prime Minister cross the language barrier? Can his translated message have the same impact as asking Gujaratis to vote for the son of their land? Congress leaders don't think so and claim that his Hindi message will be lost in this secular and multicultural state.

At the moment, there is no sense of an anti-incumbency wave against Siddaramaiah.

But as you travel north from Bengaluru, the very cosmopolitan capital of the state, you realise that Hindi is not such an alien language as is being made out. Whether it is in villages or small towns, there seem to be enough Hindi speakers for one to talk to about the election. And if there's one Hindi speaker in a family that provides a network to spread the message. Secondly, it seems that Modi may have caught the imagination of the youth in Karnataka as he has elsewhere. To them, he still represents hope for the future. And if Modi can turn their latent support into votes, the election may be a hit for the BJP.

Since the last time Karnataka voted in 2013, more than 70 lakh new voters have registered and are 15 per cent of all voters. As Battleground Karnataka, Prannoy Roy's analysis show pointed out, in a state where a 4-5 per cent swing could see the BJP collecting a majority, the youth vote is very potent. And despite his youth, Rahul Gandhi does not seem to have become an icon for these voters.

Not that the BJP is depending only on Modi to stir up the voters in Karnataka. It is sending its chief communal weapon, Yogi Adityanath, to blitz the state in the last week of campaigning. Despite a seemingly unimpressive response to his earlier visits to the state, the party clearly believes there is a strong latent Hindu vote that can be woken up and galvanised to push the BJP home. Again, as Battleground pointed out, in seats that can be classified as Muslim, the BJP's vote share is higher than its average because of the consolidation of Hindu votes. Furthermore, one should remember that in 2014, the BJP won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, garnering 43 per cent of the vote. Anything close to that kind of support will have them dancing to power in the state.

Of the three contenders for chief minister, the BJP's BS Yeddyurappa looks like a tired warhorse

Behind all this, the third point of the Trishul, Amit Shah, has been crisscrossing the state for months campaigning and organising BJP workers for this great southern assault. With money in the bag, Amit Shah is able to fund the campaign to the maximum while the poorer Congress struggles.

And money is not only important in campaigning but is decisive in cobbling together a coalition if the Karnataka house is hung. If opinion polls are correct in forecasting that, it's advantage BJP because Amit Shah has shown in Goa and the North East that he is the master of this game.

The problem for Amit Shah is that if the house is hung, unless the BJP has over 100 seats, the only coalition partner available is HD Kumaraswamy's JDS. Kumaraswamy is very confident of his Vokkaliga base and believes that the coalition with Mayawati's BSP will provide the impetus to Dalits to support his party and push the JDS beyond 50 seats to give him that power. The JDS and BJP have coalesced before in 2006; though the alliance collapsed 20 months later, it could be an experiment repeated now. While Kumaraswamy categorical rejects such a possibility, he refuses to accept, as he told NDTV, that 2006 was a mistake. He says he is going to be king and not kingmaker, clearly telling both the Congress and the BJP that a coalition will only be acceptable if he is made chief minister.

If the house is hung, unless the BJP has over 100 seats, the only coalition partner available is HD Kumaraswamy's JDS

This may be difficult for the Congress as Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has said he would never make up with the JDS (he split from it in 2005), so unless the Congress ditches Siddaramaiah, the BJP may well score Kumaraswamy. And that may not be a problem in the short term for the BJP, whose eyes are on 2019. By ousting the Congress in Karnataka, they would kill talk of the Congress being within striking range of a comeback. They would also bargain hard to get the lion's share of the Lok Sabha seats at the expense of Kumaraswamy.

While all this seems to suggest that Siddaramaiah is in trouble, that may not be completely accurate. At the moment, there is no sense of an anti-incumbency wave. He told NDTV that he is very confident that the many programmes has launched for the poor will help him back to power. He is confident that the communal card will fail and in a state with a large ST/SC (he himself is from the backward Kuruba community) and Muslim population, and minority Tamil
and Telugu populations, he can attract the 40 per cent vote needed to put the Congress over the top.

Moreover, his acquiescing to the long-standing Lingayat demand to be recognised as a separate religion seems to have influenced some of the Lingayats who without saying they would support the Congress have been actively asking their followers to vote for what is best for Lingayats. If this breaks the BJP hold on this community, Siddaramaiah could stroll home.

(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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