BJP micro-manages Karnataka campaign to target specific caste groups, counter Siddaramaiah's AHINDA support
The BJP is micro-managing its campaign in Karnataka to target caste and community groups and outmanoeuvre the Congress.
The Supreme Court's order to the Karnataka government to release Cauvery waters could not have come at a more awkward time for chief minister Siddaramaiah and the Congress. The state government cannot be seen to openly disobey an apex court directive. The JD(S), with its strong support among the farmers of the region around the Cauvery river, will strongly protest any release of water. The BJP, too, has positioned itself as a supporter of the farmers' cause, having effectively delayed any decision on forming a Cauvery water management board till after the elections.
The question is whether the BJP can gain sufficient momentum in this final stretch, especially with its strong micro-management of the campaign. The micro-management is happening at different levels — the broader tactical and strategic level of caste and community outreach to counter Siddaramaiah’s carefully cultivated AHINDA (minorities, dalits and backward classes) support, and at the constituency and booth levels, a process party president Amit Shah is adept at.
At the booth level, Shah has asked party workers to target the individual voter. In urban centres, Bengaluru in particular, voters have been categorised as hardcore BJP supporters (A+), sympathisers (A) and non-supporters (B). “Your job is to win your booth,” Shah reportedly told party workers. “When many booths are won, we win the election.” He has also asked party workers to visit the homes of around 3,500 farmers who committed suicide in the past five years.
For the broader caste and community management, the party drew up a detailed tour itinerary for Amit Shah. First, the Hindu agenda seems to have been sewn up, especially in the communally sensitive coastal Karnataka. It is no coincidence that the families of the slain Hindu activists that Shah visited in mid-February belonged to the numerically strong Billava community. Many of the slain activists in the region belong to this community, which has been at the forefront of the campaign accusing the Congress of “Muslim appeasement.” The Congress has shot itself in the foot by withdrawing 175 cases against Muslim groups, and consolidated the Hindu vote for the BJP.
The issue of granting minority religion status to Lingayats has also receded to the background for now, giving the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, a free run to try and consolidate this vote bank. Amit Shah’s carefully planned visits to prominent temples, influential mutts and carefully chosen caste conventions and rallies, especially among the marginalised caste groups, was part of broader campaign management.
Another example of careful campaign management was the decision to choose B Sriramulu, who belongs to the Valmiki (Nayaka) caste, as one of its main campaigners and giving him two seats (Bidar and Chitradurga) to contest from. The BJP has also attempted to capitalise on the unrest among the Madigas, a Dalit community which has been demanding re-allocation of reservation. It claims that dominant castes like the Holayas corner the bulk of the benefits of reservations.
Amit Shah had visited the Maadara Channaiah mutt in Chitradurga and stoked the Madiga resentment against the Siddaramaiah government for not implementing a 2012 Justice AJ Sadashiva commission report which had recommended such a redistribution. The Congress was apprehensive about a backlash from its own Dalit leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, a name Narendra Modi invoked in his speeches as an example of Congress indifference towards Dalits. Shah’s meeting with the mutt pontiff was to affirm BJP’s support to their cause.
The recent inclusion by the Centre of the Talwara and Parivara communities (similar to the Nayakas) in the Scheduled Tribes list too was aimed at garnering the tribal votes. Shah’s visit to another backward classes convention at Kaginele and a fishermen’s convention at Malpe were part of the party’s broader caste micro-management strategy.
The inclusion of the two communities mentioned above in the Scheduled Tribes list also has a historical context which the BJP hopes to exploit. The Talwara and Parivaras are a reference to the Nayaka clan of Chitradurga, whose feudal lord Madakari Nayaka is believed to have been poisoned by Hyder ali (Tipu Sultan’s father). Tribal resentment against the Congress government rose when Siddaramaiah initiated statewide celebrations of Tipu Jayanti in 2015.
Amit Shah gesture, of garlanding the statue of Madakari Nayaka in Chitradurga and promising that a memorial to the feudal king would be built, went down well with these communities. The BJP also can claim to have given the tribal groups a greater say, having given them three ministerial berths during its government, while the Congress gave just one.
The author is former editor-in-charge The Week
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