In less than 15 days, Karnataka saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the state twice. His first visit was to Bengaluru, in the first week of February. The second one was on February 19, to flag off the electrified railway line between Mysuru and Bengaluru. Not just Modi, party president Amit Shah, too, has been a regular visitor to the state, sometimes even holding informal briefings with party men at the airport, just so that the state intelligence has no access to that information.
Clearly, they have an eye on the Karnataka Assembly elections, that are just a few months away. But beyond visiting the state multiple times – what is the BJP’s strategy in the southern state?
So far, at least, the BJP and its leaders have employed a by-now well known template when it comes to their attack on the Congress government in Karnataka. They’re bringing up the ‘Hindu card’, the puritanical ‘vegetarian’ card – strategies that have seemingly worked for them in the north. They believe this game plan may work well in the south, too.
Except, the south is not the north.
Karnataka is a Lingayat, Vokkaliga and Kuruba stronghold, and these communities have time and again decided the political fate of parties. Two of the three communities – Vokkaligas and Kurubas – are passionate meat eaters, and even their rituals and festivals involve meat dishes. BJP’s food politics may well blow up right in their face.
Karnataka has also been home to a strong theatre culture, and anti-establishment and progressive movements for decades now – and the food culture in the state has never been in question.
The state has also been the seat of major social reforms under Basavanna, the founder of Lingayat Dharma, since the 12th century.
Adding to that, the Lingayats have been demanding a separate religion tag in the state for several months now – they want to separate from ‘Hindutva’ itself, and several leaders of the community have been stressing on the issue.
But BJP doesn’t seem to have taken these facts into consideration in deciding their strategy.
A while back, the ‘big debate’ on TV channels was that CM Siddaramaiah visited the Dharmasthala Manjunatha temple after eating fish for breakfast. Later, when Rahul Gandhi visited Karnataka, a media person promptly checked the Congress president’s menu, and reported that Rahul Gandhi went to Koppala Narasimhaswami temple after eating ‘country chicken.’
Needless to say, the report’s tone and tenor was far from journalistic. Irrespective of whether RaGa consumed meat or not, a state that has a majority of meat eaters was being introduced, for the first time, to a debate on whether eating meat was allowed before going to a temple! Never in the history of the state, was it THIS important.
While debates raged on television, social media and mass messaging platforms, with a ‘for-or-against-meat’ focus – they were soon drowned out by some crucial questions: What happened to the water issues of Karnataka? What was Delhi offering us as a solution in the Mahadayi issue? And what about Cauvery water sharing with Tamil Nadu?
So far, the BJP has no convincing answers.
The chink in the armour of BJP’s Karnataka unit is showing, and it’s clear that BS Yeddyurappa is a mere shield for the party to face the elections in the states. The inane issues of food – that are a staple in the north – have gained importance in election campaigning in Karnataka because the BJP doesn’t have a clear strategy in the state. For what else can explain the fact that the state unit is going along with the ‘meat’ debate, when a host of BJP leaders are known to throw meat parties regularly? Even Yeddyurappa’s close confidante Shobha Karandlaje enjoys her share of meat with great passion.
Whether Rahul Gandhi makes the right noises or not is immaterial in this campaign. What will seal the BJP’s fate is whether they are able to address the right problems, apart from imaginary issues of Hindutva in a state where the anti-Hindutva movement is gaining momentum.
The other party fighting elections in Karnataka – JD (S) – has a strong Vokkaliga base, and has already announced an alliance with the BSP, to stand with Dalits.
CM Siddaramaiah meanwhile has found fans for his spunk on social media – and his jibes have found their mark, upsetting no less than the Prime Minister himself. The Chief Minister’s country-style speeches appeal to the rural voter, and his precise, data-laden tweets have begun to catch the attention of the urban voter.
In the midst of this, BJP is stuck talking about eating meat before going to the temple. What a pity that a party that rules the country, has no game plan in Karnataka.
If they want to win the elections, they are going to have to find meatier issues in a few weeks’ time.
Views expressed are the author's own.