Sonia Gandhi's rally in Karnataka is a carefully planned move by Congress to counter Narendra Modi

Emotional connect and electoral arithmetic are the two major factors that made Congress zero in on Bijapur in Karnataka as the most favoured destination for the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s election campaign rally on Tuesday.

In a bid to counter the onslaught of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, who have been on an aggressive campaigning mode in Karnataka, Sonia, who didn’t campaign for almost two years, appeared before a large crowd on Tuesday. Her last campaign appearance was in Varanasi on 2 August 2016, when she had fallen ill during a road show.

File image of former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. PTI

File image of former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. PTI

Thereafter, she remained inactive during Assembly election campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya.

With less than a week left before Karnataka goes to polls, the seriousness of the high-decibel state election can be judged from the urgency in Congress camp. Besides Sonia, it was former prime minister Manmohan Singh who addressed a press conference in Bengaluru on 7 May, to attack Modi government’s policies.

Emotional connect

Nehru-Gandhi family has a strong connect with Bijapur, as India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the first from this family to visit this place to attend the centenary celebration on Bijapur municipality in 1956. Thereafter, Indira Gandhi visited Bijapur for election campaigning.

Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had campaigned in Bijapur too for the Congress candidate during the Assembly polls in 1984.

Senior citizens of Bijapur, also known as Vijayapura, recall that Indira Gandhi helped the Congress a lot when she had visited Bijapur along with the then chief minister S Nijalingappa in late 1960s.

“As far as I remember, Indira Gandhi had visited Bijapur thrice. She was very popular and a PM whom people loved and accepted. Her last visit to the city was in 1977 after the Emergency. It was one of the largest rallies that Bijapur had witnessed, as people from long distances had come all the way to see her. During her first visit, she was weighed in gold and it made big news those days. People got frenzied to have a look at her (sic),” reminisced 76-year old Sadanand H Patil, a retired government employee.

“Bijapur has always been close to the hearts of Nehru-Gandhi family. Besides Rajiv Gandhi, who came here to campaign for the Congress candidate during Assembly election, Sonia Gandhi as Congress president visited twice,” Patil added.

Electoral arithmetic

Besides Sonia’s emotional connect with Bijapur, the electoral arithmetic also made All India Congress Committee (AICC) select this destination for her public rally.

“She is very popular in north Karnataka and highly acceptable amongst voters in this belt. Despite’s BJP’s influence in this region, the Congress party is more popular,” senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka BK Hariprasad told Firstpost.

Traditionally, Bijapur had been a Congress bastion as the party won the only Lok Sabha seat eight times. In between, Swatantra Party, Janata Party and Janata Dal each had won once. The BJP has won the Lok Sabha seat four times in a row since 1999.

At present, Jigajinagi R Chandappa is the BJP MP from this Lok Sabha constituency. Out of eight Assembly seats in the constituency, seven belong to Congress and one to BJP.

Bijapur is also a belt with a considerable number of Muslim voters.

“It’s the decision of the Congress high command and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee of holding Soniaji’s rally in Bijapur, which is a Congress stronghold. The people of Bijapur love Congress, and the party has a large base of followers in this region. Almost all AICC presidents had visited Bijapur from time to time, including former PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, which makes it a favourable destination,” Congress MLA from Bijapur City, Dr Makbul Bagawan told Firstpost.

Sonia attacks Modi

While addressing the gathering at Vijayapura, the UPA chairperson greeted people by invoking 12th-century Lingayat philosopher, social reformer, statesman and Kannada poet, Basavanna by saying, “This is the land of Basavanna. I bow to this land. Bijapur is the cradle of culture, which has given message of brotherhood. I’m not only happy but proud to be here.”

Not mincing words, Sonia attacked Prime Minister Modi and his policies. While praising Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and his government for bringing about development in Karnataka, she targeted the prime minister for discriminating against the state.

“Modiji is obsessed with ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. He’s a big orator and speaks like an actor. But do his speeches provide food to people, help in women empowerment, solve farmer distress, provide jobs to unemployed, solve the problems of the middle class and establish Lokpal to root out corruption?” questioned Sonia Gandhi.

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Updated Date: May 08, 2018 20:30:57 IST

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