This time, the Congress President will be covering the districts of Belgaum, Chikkodi, Bijapur, Bagalkot and Dharwad.

Karnataka polls 2018 Rahul to embark on three-day campaign address all-women rallyPTI/ file image
news Karnataka 2018 Friday, February 23, 2018 - 16:04

It’s round two for Congress President Rahul Gandhi in poll-bound Karnataka.

Starting Saturday, the leader will embark on a three-day tour of the state, covering the districts of Belgaum, Chikkodi, Bijapur, Bagalkot and Dharwad.

In the 2013 polls, the party bagged 34 out of the 56 seats in the state.

Noticeably, his itinerary this time around does not feature any places of worship, unlike his previous poll-tour of north Karnataka.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in the Opposition, has already targeted Rahul for his itinerary, calling him “fake Hindu”, alleging that his temple visits are nothing  but a poll gimmick.

“If the Congress President wishes to visit temples along his journey, the party will surely arrange it. The Congress has always visited religious places and will continue to do so – be it a temple, a dargah or a church,” a source in the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) notes.

And what will be the highlight of Rahul Gandhi’s tour?

“He will be addressing the biggest all-women rally in Tikkota. He has always pushed for the empowerment of women. He has backed the Women's Reservation Bill, which would allow 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and all legislative assemblies,” says the Congress leader.

The Congress was under fire recently when MLA NA Haris’s son, Mohammad Nalapad Haris, and his goons brutally assaulted a man in an upscale eatery in Bengaluru. The victim was grievously injured and is still recovering in hospital.

In another embarrassment to the party, a Congress leader was caught on camera threatening to burn down a Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) ward office if officials didn’t sign a document claiming he was the owner of a piece of disputed land.

The BJP was quick to latch on to both incidents and criticise the ruling party.

“The BJP is making a mountain out of a molehill. The party has taken immediate action in both incidents. And also in both cases, the party or the government is not directly involved, but we have still been very proactive,” claims the Congress leader.

Poll observers are of the opinion that these two incidents will not affect the party’s chances outside Bengaluru.

“Not many things have changed from the last time. Rahul is still the mascot of the party, as he was the last time,” notes political analyst Sandeep Shastri.

“Look at their campaign, look at their posters. Rahul and Sonia don’t feature prominently in the posters at all. They have consciously taken the decision to paint the Chief Minister (Siddaramaiah) as their main man to fight these elections. With this they deflect the attention from Modi to local agendas, much to the discomfort of the BJP,” says political analyst Sandeep Shastri. “Now the BJP is forced to react to situations, rather than initiating conversations.”

Harish Ramaswamy, professor of Political Science at Dharwad University, agrees, “Siddaramaiah is in a powerful position where instead of him listening to the central leadership, it is the central leadership that is listening to Siddaramaiah.”

He adds that the party has realised that Siddaramaiah, who has led a stable government for the last five years, is the best bet for the party to retain power in one of the larger states where it still weilds power. Here, Rahul will have to ensure that an anti-incumbency wave doesn’t set in.

The KPCC leader refuses to comment on this, but says, “Unlike Amit Shah and PM Modi, Rahul believes in state leaders and knows the CM has delivered so far. This is more than what the BJP can say for PM Modi. Rahul is able to relate to young India’s growing problems, he brings in fresh ideas which deliver innovative solutions to long-standing problems of the people. Can you not sense the nervousness in BJP? They have been working overtime to counter his campaign tour.”

The BJP’s lost ground

In the 2013 polls, the BJP managed to win only 14 seats, while Yeddyurappa's Karnataka Janata Party won another two seats compared to the 38 seats the BJP won in the 2008 polls.

The BJP, however, is confident of turning the tide. Its spokesperson Vaman Acharya, like his party, remains dismissive about Rahul’s visit and claims it will negatively impact the Congress.

Harish thinks although the Lingayat bastion of Mumbai-Karnataka has historically been a BJP stronghold, the Congress has considerable achievements to boast of in terms of food security, education and employment.

“They have gone with the bottom-up approach. Basic necessities have been taken care of and this will help the Congress stretch well beyond their traditional vote bank of the Ahindyas. And the Congress with its socialist outlook has done enough to remain optimistic,” he notes.

More so, the regional ‘feudal lords’, including sugar barons, have switched loyalties to the Congress or are in the process of announcing their allegiance with the Congress.

However, analysts are of the opinion that the Congress’ attempt to fragment the Lingayat vote by demanding a separate religion tag has failed to cut the ice with the electorate. And the same holds true for BJP’s idea of consolidating Hindu votes.

Mahadayi row

“Maybe the BJP could have handled the Mahadayi issue better. In my mind, other than this there are hardly any issues that either party can claim to be a vital factor for this region,” a senior journalist who didn’t wish to be named said.

Harish feels that the Mahadayi issue, like the Cauvery, will give the Congress an advantage. “The BJP has not played any forward role, while Siddaramaiah and the government took positions and even tried to find solutions when the court verdicts were not favourable for the state,” he adds.

The Congress leader maintains the party stance, “Our Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi is watching us suffer. The Prime Minister, who speaks on every subject and even chooses to make baseless allegations against a duly elected state government, has not bothered to say anything on this issue so far and probably never will.”  

On the issue of Congress’ allegation of the PM keeping quiet on the subject, Vaman said, “Even if the PM tries to resolve the issue, if someone files a court case, it will reach a deadlock again. If we come to power, all three entities will be ruled by the BJP. Then we can resolve the issue amicably.”

 

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