Modi-Shah prep for pre-election show in Karnataka; Siddaramaiah adopts BJP tact, proves tough nut to crack

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's grand rally in Bengaluru on Sunday did heat up the election season in Karnataka. Hashtags like #KarnatakaTrustsModi and #NammaKarnatakaFirst were trending on the micro-blogging site throughout the day. In his inimitable style, the prime minister called the Congress-ruled Karnataka government as '10 percent government' and used acronym 'TOP' (tomato, onion and potato) to highlight the agricultural problems in the state.

The Karnataka election, which is slated for this year, is turning out to be a cracker of an election after an intense battle in Gujarat witnessed the BJP scrape through. Congress is buoyed by its performance in Modi's home state and an improved ratings of Rahul Gandhi as per India Today Mood of The Nation poll. Karnataka is the last big turf Congress holds along with Punjab. These two states are the only big states sending more than ten MPs to Parliament, where party is in power. A loss in this southern state would send out a wrong message for the three state elections to be held at the end of the year in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh which are also being considered as the semi-finals to the Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

 Modi-Shah prep for pre-election show in Karnataka; Siddaramaiah adopts BJP tact, proves tough nut to crack

File image of Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. Image: Twitter

While no chief minister has returned to power in Karnataka since Ramakrishna Hegde in 1985, and there is a strong trend of people in the state throwing out incumbent governments, Siddaramaiah's aggressive countering has surprised even BJP strategists. He is using the same tricks used by BJP in other states and seems to have learnt lessons from Amit Shah, giving him back at each occasion.

Here are six reasons why Siddaramaiah is proving to be a tough nut to crack.

Surprise welcome or a rude shock?

Modi landed in Bengaluru to a surprise welcome — a tweet from chief minister Siddaramaiah welcoming Modi to Karnataka highlighting the achievements of his government. Normally, BJP leaders and party handle put up such tweets, but the chief minister's tweet stole the day.

Siddramaiah also tried to set the agenda for Modi's speech, asking him taking a position on the uncomfortable Mahadayi dispute. This is not the first time Siddaramaiah has pulled off something of this sort. When BJP president Amit Shah landed in Mysuru to attend a rally last month, Congress backed a bandh called by farmers on the water sharing dispute with Goa, causing low attendance. A fine example of proper (mis)use of government machinery inspired by Shah.

Backing separate religion demand of Lingayats

While the BJP is trying to consolidate Hindu votes and ensuring Congress AHINDA plan fails, Siddaramaiah is countering this move by trying to split BJP's anchor Lingayat votes. He is backing a demand by a section of community to accord separate religion status to Lingayats who account for 15 percent to 17 percent of the state's population and are a dominant political force along with Vokkaligas.

At least, 63 percent Lingayats voted for BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. BJP chief minister candidate BS Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat. The matter has been referred to State Minorities Commission. Congress retained the two Lingayat dominated seats in by-polls held last year.

Hindutava versus the Kannada pride

BJP's plans to polarise the Hindu vote by playing the Hindutava card is being countered by Siddaramaiah by playing the Kannada pride card. "He is bringing in the element of Kannadiga pride in the tolerance, shared heritage and social harmony that the state is known for," a Congress leader told Firstpost. He has raised issues like separate flag for state, reviving and preserving the language, Hindi signboards and the Mahadayi water sharing issue to ignite the Kannada sentiment. This is very similar to the Gujarati Asmita card played by BJP in Gujarat.

Siddaramaiah started the same by making Kannada a compulsory subject in schools (including ICSE and CBSE), 5 percent reservation for Kannada medium students in state civil services and printing of government hospital cards in Kannada. Kannada is the common thread that binds all – LIBRA, Vokkaligas and AHINDA.

He has advocated use of a separate state like Jammu and Kashmir and constituted a committee to examine its legality. Taj Hotel has already hoisted the same in its premises. The Mahadayi river is the lifeline of North Karnataka, and the dispute between Goa and Karnataka has put the BJP on back foot. He supported the agitations against imposition of Hindi sign boards on Metro and they were finally removed. All this has put the BJP strategists in a quandary. BJP and RSS believe Hindi is the common language that binds all of India.

Caste census has left BJP guessing

Siddaramaiah government has undertaken a massive caste census, the results of which are not available publicly. This is similar to caste census done at central level. The data has not been put in public by NDA government despite opposition demanding the same. Siddaramaiah government is doing deliberate selective leaks suggesting massive reduction in population of dominant caste groups of Lingayat & Vokkaligas. This is creating a lot of confusion among voters and BJP-JDS strategists. Siddaramaiah and Congress party are likely to benefit from insider knowledge, findings of the survey.

Increase in reservation up to 70 percent

Siddaramaiah has promised to raise reservation to up to 70 percent for backwards, Dalits and minorities based on Tamil Nadu formula. Currently it is 50 percent. A similar posturing in Gujarat didn't work, however it is not deterring the Karnataka chief minister. In Gujarat, Patels, a dominant caste was promised reservation which antagonized dalits and OBCs. Here he is suggesting an expansion in reservation for existing beneficiaries based on census data. He feels this has the potential of consolidating the AHINDA vote bank further.

Gujarat versus Karnataka model

Siddaramaiah is aggressively positioning the achievements of his government. Charts, WatsApp messages showing how Karnataka has performed better than Gujarat were widely circulated during Gujarat elections on social media. This way the chief minister is not shying away from directly taking on the BJP's best governance model. In the graphics released on Karnataka versus Gujarat on key socio-economic parameters, Karnataka is seen ahead on most factors.

While Modi conducted a huge rally on Sunday in Bengaluru, we have seen in the past these may not necessarily translate into votes. Additionally, urban areas have always been a strong point of BJP. The aggressive posturing of Siddaramaiah reminds of two chief ministers who took on the BJP might strongly, Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

No chief minister has returned to power in Karnataka since 1985. Can Siddaramaiah reverse the trend? Interesting battle ahead.

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Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 15:21:57 IST