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Congress, BJP's competitive communal politics in poll-bound Karnataka augurs ill for people of the state

Two months after Yogi Adityanath challenged his counterpart Siddaramaiah to prove he was a true Hindu by banning beef in Karnataka, the religion card is once again being thrown at the chief minister. This time, the attack is more pungent, more divisive. The BJP's Karnataka unit has put out tweets this week that call Siddaramaiah "pro-jihadi'' with the hashtag #jihadimuktKarnataka.

This line of offence is not surprising. More so when the theatre of politics is coastal Karnataka, a patch notorious for its communal divide. One of the tweets makes a mention of how "fear of annihilation grips every Hindu household in Karavali'', in a reference to how Hindus are at the receiving end of the violent politics of the coast. The reference also is to the killing of 23 youth with a right-wing connection. The BJP projects these murders as a selective attack on Hindus, accusing the government of looking the other way. The Congress claims only nine of them were communal in nature, the rest being due to personal reasons.

But the tweets are only a reflection of what is happening in the real world. During a campaign meeting this week, BJP's Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel referred to Siddaramaiah as "narahantaka'' (slayer of human beings) and referred to him as "Sultan Siddaramaiah''. While Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde called the chief minister a "paapi'' (sinner), former minister CT Ravi said Siddaramaiah is no less a "tyrant'' when compared to "his role model Tipu Sultan''. The strategy is obvious — push Siddaramaiah into the Muslim camp, to neutralise the temple run of Rahul Gandhi and attempts by the Congress to pursue a soft Hindutva line.

BV Seetharam, editor of `Karavali Ale,' a Kannada newspaper published in coastal Karnataka and a long-time watcher of politics in this part of the state, says the process of polarisation is well and truly on in the 20-odd constituencies in four districts of coastal Karnataka.

"The language used does not behove a Union minister or an MP or a former minister. It is difficult to say if this will find traction among Hindus. But I don't think all Hindus will approve of this kind of rhetoric,'' says Seetharam.

The Congress is tapping into this feeling of discomfiture among educated Hindus to say it is not fair for politicians to stoop to any level to get power. A more combative Siddaramaiah however, claims he too can reply in kind.

"I can also speak that way but I choose not to. It shows their culture and background. They are trying to incite people,'' he said.

CT Ravi was quick to remind Siddaramaiah that he too had stooped to the same level in 2014 when he reportedly called Narendra Modi a "Narahantaka''.

What does this campaign that has hit a new low say about the BJP and Congress?

The BJP gameplan is to continuously accuse the Congress of blatant minority appeasement. They want to ensure the original plan of the Karnataka government earlier this year to withdraw cases only against Muslims accused in communal disturbances, stays in the public mind. The BJP had gone to town criticising the move, with the hashtag #CongKillsHindus trending on social media. After this outrage, the Karnataka government amended the order to include "all innocents''.

The BJP claims the Congress also has a secret electoral deal with the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of the Popular Front of India (PFI). The BJP has been demanding a ban on the PFI, accusing Siddaramaiah of going soft on the outfit because it is used to target right-wing activists in coastal Karnataka. The BJP allegation is that the Congress wants the SDPI to deliver Muslim votes into its kitty in the region.

While the PFI is dubbed as a terror outfit, Siddaramaiah, on account of of not taking action against it, is labeled a jihadi supporter. The intention is to corner the majority Hindu vote by labeling the Congress as a party only for Muslims. The politics of coastal Karnataka is polarised and with no JD(S) there, it is a straight fight between the BJP and Congress and just a 3 percent swing can mean a clean sweep of those seats.

"Siddaramaiah said he has Siddha and Rama in his name so he is a good Hindu. That is a meaningless argument. By the same argument, Sitaram Yechury too can claim the same. You don't become a good Hindu through your name or through favouring Muslims over Hindus,'' says Hemantha Kumar, political analyst.

That the BJP is banking heavily on the polarisation card is obvious from the fact that the prism of religion is being overused by the party. When a member of the Hindu Yuva Sene was arrested in connection with the Gauri Lankesh murder, BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje claimed that no Hindu was involved in the killing. Accusing the government of being anti-Hindu, she charged the government of deliberately putting the blame on a Hindu.

Political analyst Sugata Raju sees this rhetoric by the saffron party as an admission of its inability to develop a narrative for the elections.

"Siddaramaiah has a story to tell about what he has done for five years. BJP is still experimenting with monikers of this kind, reducing the politics to usage of unparliamentary words. This labeling of the Congress speaks more about the BJP than it does about the Congress,'' says Raju.

In a tweet, the Karnataka BJP points out that the state is 84 percent Hindu and will not want to become 54 percent Hindu like Kerala.

It is quite obvious that Karnataka is seeing a communal election campaign — either by minority appeasement, the Congress way or provoking Hindus, the BJP way. And while one of the two parties will gain, there will be one certain loser — Karnataka.

Updated Date: Mar 09, 2018 18:26 PM

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