Battle of models: Congress plans to give Modi a taste of his own medicine

Archis Mohan
In 2014, the narrative around the apparent success of the ‘Gujarat model of development’ helped Narendra Modi capture the national imagination. In 2015-end, the ‘bahari’, or outsider, versus Bihari binary contributed to Nitish Kumar retaining his hold over power in Bihar.

This month, the Congress plans to invoke sub-regional aspirations to give Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah a taste of their own medicine.

The Congress election campaign, which will be rolled out from now to the voting day on May 12, will be two pronged – project Chief Minister Siddaramaiah as a symbol of Kannadiga pride and showcase to the state, and rest of India, how his government’s ‘Karnataka model of development’ is superior to both Modi’s ‘Gujarat model’, and Yogi Adityanath’s ‘Uttar Pradesh model’ in encouraging inclusive growth and social mobility.

Three of the Congress party’s central departments are currently working to help Siddaramaiah and local leadership shape the contours of the Congress campaign for the assembly polls.

The Congress communication team, led by Randeep Singh Surjewala, Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Gowda-led research team and Divya Spandana’s social media team are in Karnataka cooperating, but also competing at times, to keep the Congress campaign focused on the “success of the Karnataka model of development’, with ‘son of the soil’ Siddaramaiah as the face of its campaign.

The red lines for all three departments are identical. First, the teams have been asked to be vigilant to not fall in the trap of Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva politics. Second, to tell people, particularly the youth, the Siddaramaiah government’s ‘Bhagya’ social welfare schemes are not doles, but schemes for social inclusion.

The Indian Institute Management, Bangalore, has prepared a ‘Karnataka Innovation Report’, with help of stakeholders from several sectors, including health, education, information technology and urban development. It has documented the work done by the Siddaramaiah government.

Research department head Gowda is currently on a campaign trail in urban Karnataka. He has been visiting urban voters, particularly youths, to talk about the ‘Karnataka model of development’.

While Spandana, who is a Kannadiga herself, is managing the social media campaign in the state, Surjewala is scheduled to spend nearly three weeks in Karnataka from April 15 onwards, organise press conferences in all the four regions of Karnataka.

The Congress has conducted training modules for all its media panelists. It hopes to mostly use state level spokespersons, and has also asked its north Indian leadership to not make statements on the issue of granting of minority status to Lingayats.

It also has been careful about showcasing the Siddaramaiah government’s successes rather than attacking Prime Minister Modi. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, along with Siddaramaiah, travelling in the Bengaluru metro, was to highlight the work Congress-led UPA government at the Centre did in Karnataka. Another aspect of the strategy has been target BJP chief Shah as a subject of ridicule.

A party source said the Congress does not want the election to be about Modi, or the “failures” of the Modi government at the Centre, and has largely been successful in dictating the narrative on local issues.

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