Ahead of the general election, the BJP needs Karnataka for two reasons — one, to dislodge the idea that a coalition government can function well so the party leadership gets to snub the mahagatbandhan (grand alliance) at the national level, and two, to carry on its Hindutva politics.
Backpedal to 2008
Operation Kamala, Hindutva politics, the craving for power and the general election — these form the common thread for the BJP between the current state of affairs and that way back in 2008-09 ahead of the general election then, except that the BJP is not in power now.
When the BJP first came to power in Karnataka in 2008, it set a similar tone ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The coastal districts were polarised. The party’s win triggered a series of incidents of violence. The attacks on churches and Christian institutions in southern Karnataka, as well as the case of the Mangalore pub assault, where women were beaten and dragged by their hair for merely attempting to have a night out, were the talking points ahead of the 2009 general election.
In both cases, instead of taking strict action against the perpetrators, the then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa blamed the victims.
In the case of the attacks on churches, he accused Christian groups of triggering disturbances in Karnataka and distributing literature insulting Hindu gods. In the pub attack case, he had refused to ban the outfits behind the assaults on the women — Sri Ram Sena and Bajrang Dal — and instead said going to pubs was against Indian culture and won't be allowed in Karnataka.
The violence and Operation Kamala — a successful endeavour by the Yeddyurappa government to circumvent the anti-defection law and woo Opposition MLAs to join the BJP to ensure the stability of its government — did not hit the party hard in 2009 partly because the BJP had been in power for less than a year in the run-up to the general election. In fact, the party went on to win 19 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, the highest for the BJP in the state till date. The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) together grabbed the other nine seats.
This, perhaps, is why there is a pressing need for national leaders to focus on Karnataka to increase their tally in 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Can the coast lead the way in 2019?
A decade later, things have changed.
For the BJP, which is losing steam across the country, as indicated in the recent Assembly elections, bringing up the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya seems to be the focal point, and Karnataka’s coastal region will be the testing ground to push this agenda.
In the Assembly elections last year, the BJP won 28 of the 33 seats in Karnataka's coastal and Malnad regions. At both the national and state level, the party played up the killing of RSS workers to draw the vote bank in its favour.
Sitting in the Opposition, the BJP, which emerged the single largest party in Assembly in the election held in May 2018, is desperately seeking to unseat the coalition government in Karnataka run by the JD(S) and the Congress.
"We will form the government in the state soon. There's no denying it, and we are strategising for it," said CT Ravi, Karnataka BJP's general secretary and former district in-charge minister of Dakshina Kannada.
"We still are riding on the Modi wave, and Hindutva will play a key role for us in the general election. On the Ayodhya front, people wish to have a Ram Mandir. Whether it is through a court order or by way of an ordinance, the decision will favour us," he added.
Moreover, sitting BJP legislator from Udupi Raghupathi Bhat echoed the Hindutva point and said coastal Karnataka will play a significant role in the general election, and Hindutva politics and "Modinomics", along with the Ram Temple issue, will be the campaign points for the BJP.
However, the Congress is not unfazed by the Sangh's attitude in the coast.
Taking at dig at the recent incident where an RSS worker was arrested for allegedly plotting against its leaders, including Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, Mankal Vaidya, the Congress MLA from Bhatkal said: "The target and the one plotting to kill are in the same party. All they know is to manufacture lies. They cannot play the Hindutva card again to win."
"Either they talk about what they can do for the people, or tell lies and cry foul to win votes," he added. "They are building an attitude to convey that courts can have no say in a matter of faith, such as in the Sabarimala and Ayodhya cases."
BJP president Amit Shah's advice to the judiciary to not give orders that can't be implemented in Sabarimala is a case in point.
Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, an RSS idealogue in coastal Karnataka. said: "We cannot go against the Supreme Court verdict, but the court should decide on certain cases based on the importance of the matter. The Ayodhya case is an important one, and they should have heard it much earlier. Ahead of the election, Ram Mandir is an important issue for the RSS."
However, analysts believe that the Hindutva card emerging in the coast may work if the party continues its tirade against the Congress and topples the ruling government by way of coercion.
"Unlike in other southern states, regional parties are not strong here. So the BJP is focussing on Karnataka to make a dent in the South. But the BJP leadership is turning weaker, and it's unsettled in the state. There's a lot of propaganda, and they will look at places where they had succeeded earlier," political analyst Harish Ramaswamy said. "Both Congress and JDS are consolidating their votes rather than breaking into the BJP votes. That is what is threatening the BJP now. The combined force could affect their chances in the Lok Sabha election."
Even as the BJP is struggling to put its team together, sitting in a resort in the outskirts of Bengaluru, Congress leaders are all set to counter the BJP's attempts to foil their plans. They say the Ayodhya issue and Hindutva politics are nothing new for the Congress as they have tackled the two for three decades now.
"For the BJP, Hindutva is their core competency as they have proved incompetent in all other areas. Hindutva politics is their go-to modus operandi when all else fails. They don't have any other card to play this time," said Srivatsa YB, national campaign coordinator for the Youth Congress.
"The Congress will tackle it politically. Their (BJP's) agenda is to win, and for that, they need to distract people as they are doing now. But their plans will fall flat soon."
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 16:49:10 IST