Karnataka polls: Narendra Modi's Hassan visit aimed at breaching JD(S) stronghold, outmanoeuvring Congress

Hassan, Karnataka: In view of the impending Assembly polls in the southern state of Karnataka, prime minister Narendra Modi's speech at a massive religious event in Hassan is being seen as his party's attempt to breach the Janata Dal (Secular)'s stronghold in the region.

These days, the Jain pilgrimage site of Shravanbelagola near Channarayapatna town in Hassan district is teeming with lakhs of devotees. Maha-mastaka-abhishekam (grand anointment) of Lord Bahubali's 57-foot-tall statue is a once-in-12-years event and the Jains celebrate it with grandeur. The programme started on 17 February and will go on till the 25 of the month. On Monday, the prime minister paid a visit to the pilgrimage and addressed a massive gathering.

In his 12-minute speech, Modi waxed eloquent about the philanthropic efforts of Indian religious heads. He mentioned how religious organisations in the country are committed to various causes, one of them being providing affordable healthcare. From here, he transitioned to the Centre's new welfare scheme of health insurance.

 Karnataka polls: Narendra Modis Hassan visit aimed at breaching JD(S) stronghold, outmanoeuvring Congress

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Bahubali Mahamasthakabhisheka Mahotsava in Karnataka. Source: Twitter @narendramodi

The Election Commission of India has not yet announced the dates of polls in Karnataka but the state is expected to go to polls in April-May. JD(S) national president HD Deve Gowda is the member of Parliament from Hassan whereas his son-in-law CN Balakrishna was elected as the MLA from Shravanbelagola.

A local BJP member Ashok Kumar Jain explained the current political scenario and put Modi's visit in context. He said chief minister Siddaramaiah is a sworn enemy of Gowda yet his cabinet colleagues are hobnobbing with JD(S) leaders as the Congress believes joining hands with the rival party is the only way to keep the BJP at bay in the upcoming Assembly elections. He said the Congress would want to keep at least 25 of the 34 seats in the Old Mysore region, which is a JD(S) stronghold.

He said this situation is dangerous for the JD(S) but conducive for the BJP to make inroads. Jain added that nothing can be more effective than the prime minister himself coming forth to do the needful. He said it does not matter that Modi did not use the Maha-mastaka-abhisheka platform to campaign for the party; he said Modi's gesture of making a trip to join people in this grand celebration itself was good enough.

The Congress too has been trying to cash in on the opportune timing of the Jains' grand celebration. The state government has released Rs 175 crore for the event even though Jain mutts don't depend on government funding; the entire programme is funded by devotees' contribution. Further, the state government has plastered Siddaramaiah's face on all the posters, banners and promotional material.

Even as hectic parleys are reportedly underway between the Congress and the JD(S) in Bangalore, the latter is also considering an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party. According to election watchers, this is a sign of desperation.

Sources in the Congress said Gowda's grandson Prajval Revanna's name has been suggested as the MLA candidate for the Raja Rajeshwari Nagar seat in Bangalore. It is believed that the Congress will either not field a candidate here or give the ticket to a weak candidate.

Voters' verdict

Chennappa Gowda, a functionary of Channarayapatna farmers' cooperative, told Firstpost that voters are fed up with Congress leaders' game of one-upmanship and the JD(S)' nepotism. He said it's as if nobody other than Gowda's kin was fit to be elected. He said this is time for people to wake up. A Hassan-based political science teacher, requesting anonymity, listed out names from the Gowda family that are in politics and the names that are in line to join politics. He called it 'heights of nepotism'.

Jyotiprasad, a teacher at PG Centre, the University of Mysore, based in Hemagangothri, Hassan, said he does not see any party other than the BJP that understands internal democracy. He said Modi might be the prime minister, but it is party president Amit Shah who calls the shots in the BJP. He called the JD(S) a family-controlled party and termed the Congress a "hereditary" party.

K Krishnamurthy, the owner of a coffee house in Channarayapatna, asked how long people will be fooled by these political parties. He said the parties say they want no truck with the Congress and the BJP but join hands with them ahead of every election.

The author is a Mangaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. He tweets @mraghuram12

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2018 11:20:07 IST