Karnataka polls: BJP food fight with Rahul insults voters' intelligence, leaves them open to Siddaramaiah's 'inclusive' stance

For the Congress in Karnataka, it seems like a classic case of chicken and temple. In the BJP's book, the temple comes first. Congress ka haath, the saffron party claims, is chicken ke saath. Which is why, according to the BJP chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa, Rahul Gandhi allegedly ate chicken before visiting the Narasimha Swamy temple at Kanakagiri in Koppal district on Sunday. The allegation itself was based on an unsubstantiated media report.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressing a rally in Karnataka. Twitter@INCIndia

Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressing a rally in Karnataka. Twitter@INCIndia

The Congress finds it fishy that the BJP should snoop around Rahul's dining table. The BJP did the same with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in October when they accused him of visiting the Manjunath temple in Dharmasthala after feasting on a meal of fried fish and country chicken. The chief minister denied it, but in the same breath asked what was wrong with it. Dismissing it as a case of much ado about nothing, it was as if  Siddaramaiah was insisting ghar ki murgi (chicken) dal barabar.

But when non-vegetarian menu is on the election campaign plate of an Opposition party, one can only feel sorry for the people of Karnataka. It shows an utter lack of imagination on the part of the BJP that it ignored a score of issues on which it could corner the Siddaramaiah regime and instead beat its chest over chicken breast. Or picked a bone, if you please.

The BJP charge Rahul with being an 'election Hindu' who engages in a temple run only for the sake of votes. Its leaders firmly believe that the Congress president ended up with egg on his face as eating chicken before stepping into a temple goes against the religious sentiments of Hindus. The Congress has denied it, and said it is a figment of the BJP's imagination. Rahul reiterated that he will not chicken out of temple visits just because the BJP has an issue with them.

This attempt to land Rahul in a soup marks a shift in the BJP's culinary manifesto. So far, the party had an issue with beef, with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath challenging Siddaramaiah to ban beef in Karnataka if he was a "true Hindu". His counterpart reacted by questioning the credentials of those who were raising objections to eating of beef.

"Who are these people to question our food habits? Many among Hindus consume beef. I do not eat beef because I don't like it. But if I want to, I will. Who are they to stop me?'' Siddaramaiah asked.

But by extending the 'not on my plate' placard to fish and chicken, many feel the BJP is fishing in troubled waters. Does it have an issue only with Rahul and Siddaramaiah consuming non-vegetarian food before a temple visit or all Hindus? In which case, does it have the machinery to check who consumed what food item before they were allowed access to the sanctum sanctorum? Would they suggest every devotee make a declaration at the temple gate, saying he or she has not eaten any non-vegetarian item?

The BJP is insulting the common sense of the electorate. The life of a citizen of Karnataka will not improve or deteriorate whether or not Rahul eats chicken before praying. But the party's campaign runs the risk of being seen as promoting a Karnataka only for vegetarians. Or in BJP lingo, a beef-mukt, fish-mukt, chicken-mukt Karnataka. Would all BJP members be on the same page if this is decided as the party menu?

The BJP template of vegetarian religiosity also runs the risk of being seen as upper caste because backward castes make meat offerings to their gods and goddesses not just in Karnataka, but across the country. Which is why the BJP's brand of Hinduism could end up looking exclusive while Siddaramaiah's "so what?'' response makes the Congress' brand of Hinduism seem inclusive.

In January, after actor Prakash Raj criticised Union minister Ananth Kumar Hegde at a function at Sirsi town in coastal Karnataka, BJP youth wing activists washed the stage with cow urine. Would BS Yeddyurappa suggest a similar clean-up drive at the temple in Koppal?

But chicken and fish are not the only items on the election plate. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pakodanomics gaining political traction, Rahul and the Congress entourage trooped into a snacks stall at Kalmala village in Raichur district to savour the South Indian version of pakoda: The bajjis.

The real intention was to focus on the kind of employment that the prime minister was trying to project as an achievement. It is obvious that the gastronomical warfare will give enough food for thought to voters before D-Day in May.

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Updated Date: Feb 14, 2018 18:22:37 IST

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