Karnataka Assembly elections: BJP, Congress talk development

Archis Mohan
“Development” as a poll plank held centre stage in the Karnataka election campaign on Thursday.

If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is struggling with its attempts at infusing a dash of religious polarisation in the mix, the Congress’s efforts at stoking Kannadiga pride to counter the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva, or at creating a split among the Lingayats, seem to have run their course.

While the third contender, the Janata Dal (Secular), organised a big rally for its ally Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the BJP and Congress President Rahul Gandhi tried to get the election campaign narrative of their respective political parties back on to the issue of “development”.

Modi, on the eve of his visit to the Chinese city of Wuhan for an “informal summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, addressed party candidates in Karnataka via his NaMo, or Narendra Modi App. 

The Congress chief addressed public meetings in Ankola City, Kumta and Honnavar.

In his address to party candidates, Modi said: “My sole agenda in Karnataka is development, fast-paced development and all-round development.” He said the BJP needed to “purge” Indian politics of the “Congress culture” of offering people the “lollypop” of false promises while dividing people on caste lines.

Modi said the Congress was destined to lose in Karnataka, and was, therefore, spreading the propaganda of a hung assembly in the state, but the people had decided that they wanted change.

Modi detailed the development work that the Centre had done in Karnataka in the past four years. He also compared the achievements of the last four years of the UPA government and the four years of the BJP-led NDA, stating that his government had spent more on constructing national highways and toilets, urban infrastructure, and solar power.

The PM said the Congress was making false allegations about him that he worked for big businesses and industrialists, and hired foreign agencies for this propaganda. 

He said the record of his government’s social welfare schemes was there for all to see. The Congress responded by pointing out that the BJP had given the ticket to tainted leaders, and the Modi government at the Centre had destroyed jobs. 

Gandhi and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah ridiculed the PM for his government’s failure to dissuade the Trump administration from cancelling H1B visas of Indian workers and their spouses in the US.

With the BJP impressing upon people how the electorate in state after state had voted for it and ousted the Congress, the latter highlighted the Siddaramaiah government had created 1.5 million jobs for the youth in Karnataka, but the unemployment of educated youth is rife in BJP-ruled states.

With the BJP continuing to hold sway in urban areas, the Congress is talking frequently about the “instability and chaos” of the five years of the BJP government in Karnataka from 2008 to 2013, when there were three chief ministers and investments had dipped, even as Hindutva outfits like Sri Ram Sene would harass the youth, particularly women, for celebrating Valentine’s Day or visiting pubs.

Taking a cue from the PM, the BJP launched a campaign on Thursday to highlight the unfulfilled promises of the Siddaramaiah government.

With anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah government not particularly palpable on the ground, the BJP is hoping its campaign to highlight the "failures" of the Siddaramaiah government could strike a chord, particularly in urban areas. 

The JD (S), meanwhile, is confident of retaining its Vokkaliga support base in Mandya, Hassan and Mysuru, and has deployed its meagre resources in the region.

The Congress, meanwhile, is confident that its social welfare schemes have been effective, and would even persuade some of the BJP's support base among Dalits and Other Backward Classes to vote for the Congress. It is also hopeful that opinion polls predicting a hung house would help consolidate the minority votes in its favour, instead of it splitting between itself and the JD (S).