When poachers do not succeed, send in the raiders. That is the sum and substance of the Congress allegation against the BJP, accusing it of misusing instruments of the state — the Income Tax department in this case — to mount pressure on the 42 Gujarat Congress MLAs to vote for the BJP Rajya Sabha candidate in Gujarat on 8 August.
The BJP, assuming that the allegation is true, is playing politics, carrom-style — hitting at Karnataka energy minister DK Shivakumar to send a message to the Gujarat legislators. The choice of Shivakumar is significant because he is the one who has arranged for the poaching-free stay of the Gujarat MLAs at the Eagleton Golf Resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru. By asking the Income-Tax sleuths to raid Shivakumar's 39 properties in Bengaluru, Bidadi and Delhi, including the room that he has occupied at Eagleton Golf Resort, the BJP leadership has taken mind games to a different level.
Rewind to April when the byelection to the RK Nagar assembly constituency in Chennai was scheduled. The I-T raids on Tamil Nadu health minister C Vijayabasker then had the effect of deflating the ruling AIADMK campaign as documents recovered from his residence showed that the party planned to bribe voters with Rs 89 crore at the rate of Rs 4,000 per voter.
Having tasted blood in Chennai, the DK Shivakumar raid is Vijayabasker template revisited.
Political analyst Sugata Raju acknowledged that the BJP's ability to read the psychological assessment of a political situation borders on the brilliant.
The fact that Shivakumar, and not any other Congress leader, was the target is significant, helping it win the moral argument. Like Vijayabasker in Tamil Nadu, not many in Karnataka political circles credit Shivakumar with a squeaky clean image. He is one of the main moneybags of the Congress in the state.
"The BJP knows the raids won't be seen as targeting of an innocent politician. The party in that sense, has won the perception battle,'' says Raju.
Interestingly, what the BJP has done is to hit two election-bound states with one I-T raid. It helps counter the Congress charge that they had moved their MLAs out of Gujarat because they were being lured with big money by the BJP. The raids are a way of telling the people that the Congress has much to answer for as well.
The Congress protested in the Rajya Sabha as well as in Bengaluru. But the divided house that the party is, there won't be many tears shed for Shivakumar.
The Vokkaliga leader has the reputation of being an overpowering figure which is why despite hailing from one of the two politically dominant castes in Karnataka politics, there was stiff resistance of his ambition to become the Karnataka Congress chief in the run-up to the elections.
The high command chose to go with incumbent G Parameshwara who is a Dalit because most of the senior leaders reportedly ganged up against Shivakumar. It was only to ensure that a sulking Shivakumar did not damage the Congress prospects that he was made chairman of the party campaign committee.
Most Congress leaders in Karnataka also believed privately that if Shivakumar is able to ensure an Ahmed Patel win in the Rajya Sabha election, he could use this to demand a lion's share of the seats for his followers during ticket distribution in the Karnataka elections. If the raids make even a handful of the Gujarat legislators rethink their decision, Patel's game will be up, given how precariously he is balanced in Gandhinagar.
Patel's loss will be seen as Shivakumar's loss as well.
The income tax department has denied any Gujarat link to their raids, claiming the searches were planned in advance. In a statement, it said that ``the events involving certain MLAs of another state being brought to Karnataka were unforeseen and unpredictable events. The search team has no concern with the MLAs and there has been no contact with the MLAs. The Income tax search is only on one Karnataka minister.''
Despite the charge of using the Income Tax department as an arsenal to neutralise political opponents, the BJP has much reason to cheer. After having been on the back foot for much of July over the Karnataka government's decision to back an official state flag and the Lingayat community demand for religion status, the Wednesday raids give the party in Karnataka a talking point against the Congress and a chance to recover lost ground.
Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 08:51 AM