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BJP, Congress turn Karnataka polls into auction with lollipops; saffron party bets big on cows

Voters of Karnataka, please take note. Your votes are going under the hammer. No, we are not talking about notes-for-votes that will take place a couple of days before polling day on 12 May. We are, of course, talking about the promises made in the manifestos of the Congress (released on 27 April) and the BJP (released on 4 May). There are many, but just sample these:

 On offer  What Congress promises  What BJP promises
Gold for women Three-gramme wedding chains for brides from below-poverty-line (BPL) families under a scheme called Mangalya Bhagya. Gold thali of same weight plus Rs 25,000 for BPL women at the time of marriage under a scheme called Vivaha Mangala Yojane.
Laptops Free for students of classes from 10 to 12. Free for “every student enrolling in a college”.
Smartphones Free for all college-going students in the 18-23 age group. Free for all BPL women.
Sanitary napkins Free for women students of government colleges and polytechnics. Free to “underprivileged women and girl students” and at Rs one to other women.
Canteens Indira Canteens (existing) Annapurna Canteens (proposed)

As you can see, many promises of the Congress and the BJP are similar in nature, content, and size. Clearly, a vote has become a commodity that the parties think they must 'buy' with lollipops of all kinds. And the bidding by both Naamdharis and Kaamdharis is at a fever pitch on Twitter and in WhatsApp groups.

 BJP, Congress turn Karnataka polls into auction with lollipops; saffron party bets big on cows

BS Yeddyurappa and other BJP leaders releasing the party's manifesto for Karnataka. PTI

While releasing the Congress manifesto, the party’s president Rahul Gandhi boasted that it was people's "mann ki baat".  The BJP's Karnataka president and chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa gloated that his party’s manifesto would mean a "2-3 percent vote swing" in its favour though he didn’t shed light on how he arrived at the figure.

Who’s copying whom?

What’s equally galling is that while the Congress dished out a manifesto that is a potpourri of sorts with ingredients plagiarised from other parties, the party is now accusing the BJP of “copying” its promises.

In fact, it was the Congress which blatantly aped the promises on laptops, smartphones and even sanitary napkins from other parties. But that isn’t stopping the Congress from claiming that the BJP copied all these from it. Another example is the Indira Canteens of the Congress which are copies of Jayalalithaa’s Amma Canteens in Tamil Nadu. Now, the BJP is unashamedly proposing what it calls Mukhya Mantri Annapurna Canteens. Telangana also has Annapurna Canteens. Who’s copying whom? But does it matter really? Bon appétit!

It’s raining populism in Karnataka

Even the rest of BJP’s manifesto is not something that will prompt voters to fall head over heels in love with the party. That includes the party’s effort to pamper farmers, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalits. It’s not guaranteed to make all these people line up before polling stations and press the lotus button on EVMs.

The BJP's assurances to farmers include:

- A decision to be taken in the “very first meeting” of the Cabinet, if the BJP is voted to power, to waive “all” loans up to Rs 1 lakh taken from nationalised and cooperative banks;

- An assurance to farmers that they will get one-and-a-half times their cost of production and

- Junkets to go to Israel and China to study agricultural practices.

Farmers have no dearth of promises. What they need is water. Or when there is water for the crops, what they need is the right price for what they grow.

Cows are back in the news

Congress leaders release the party manifesto for the Karnataka polls. Twitter/@INCKarnataka

Congress leaders release the party manifesto for the Karnataka polls. Twitter/@INCKarnataka

And just when you thought the holy cow was out of the news for a while, it came back galloping on all fours. And it came back in the wrong state, at the wrong time and for the wrong party: the BJP. The party brought it back by way of its manifesto promise to prevent cow slaughter.

The BJP is promising to revive two bills — one to prevent cattle slaughter and the other to ensure cow protection — it introduced after the party came to power in 2008 and later junked by the Congress after it won the 2013 election.

When the Congress government withdrew the two Bills, the BJP vowed to re-introduce them whenever it came to power, and also revive the Gau Seva Ayog, which it had set up but was later disbanded by the Congress government. The BJP doesn’t forget promises on cows and beef, does it?

But the cow is not what the doctor ordered for the BJP, at least at this juncture of campaigning when its leaders believe that the party's fortunes are looking up with Narendra Modi stepping on the scene. Talks of protecting the cow may win a few votes for the party from some sections of the people, but these may come at the cost of many votes of other sections.

It’s not that Hindus in Karnataka revere the cow less than those in other parts of India, but cow protection and even Ram temple have less emotive and electoral appeal in the south in general, than in the north. Any fresh laws on cattle slaughter, even with the pious intention of protecting a pious animal, four years after Modi came to power, can only stir up in people’s minds images of so-called vigilantes slaughtering cattle transporters, and it’s not a good thing for the BJP as far as Karnataka is concerned. If the BJP lost power in 2013, it can count its obsession with Hindutva-related issues and moral policing among the many reasons for it.

But the BJP can rest assured about one thing: at least the Congress won’t copy its promise on cow protection.

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Updated Date: May 06, 2018 15:48:26 IST