Karnataka: Congress ads poke fun at Modi govt, BJP hits back with Hindutva rhetoric

The past week has seen both the BJP and Congress in Karnataka place front page ads in English and Kannada dailies, targeting each other.
Newspaper advertisements of the BJP and the Congress in Karnataka
Newspaper advertisements of the BJP and the Congress in Karnataka
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The week before Karnataka goes to polls, the front page of newspapers too, became battle grounds for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. The two parties began by placing ads about assurances from their manifestos but then moved on to criticising each other. While the Congress came up with a catchy Kannada expression to target the Modi government, the BJP responded by invoking terrorism, Dalit rights, and the bogey of ‘love jihad’ over Neha Hiremath’s murder.  

The BJP’s first ad on April 17 was about “Modi’s guarantee”, promising free ration for the next five years, and schemes for farmers, women, youth, the middle class, labourers, senior citizens, and marginalised communities. In all, it had over 30 assurances from its manifesto under 12 headings. This ad appeared both in English and Kannada dailies that have editions in the state, but it did not feature the images or names of any party leader from Karnataka.

Under the slogan “Karnataka’s Progress, Our Guarantee'', the Congress featured promises from its manifesto along with the images of national leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, and state leaders Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar. In contrast to the BJP, the Congress ad was simple. It spoke only of the minimum wage guarantee, the legalisation of MSP, the apprenticeship for education youth, universal health insurance, and Rs 1 lakh every year for women. This ad too was placed in English and Kannada dailies in the state. 

In round two, it was gloves off. On April 19, the frontpages of both English and Kannada dailies had a large image of a “chombu” (a vessel for holding water) along with the slogan, “The Modi govts contribution to Karnataka: chombu!” The Kannada expression “giving chombu to someone” means that the receiver did not actually get anything. In the Kannada ad, the Congress accused the Modi government of failing to deposit Rs 15 lakh to people’s bank accounts, doubling farmers incomes, releasing flood and drought relief, and tax devolution.

Again, the Congress brought in a local flavour by projecting the BJP as against Kannadiga interests, with the slogan, “Let's give the BJP a chombu in these elections. Vote for congress to protect the interests of the Kannadigas”.

The 'chombu' ad on The New Indian Express
The 'chombu' ad on The New Indian Express

This ad got a lot of traction on social media. Youth Congress leader Mohammed Nalapad dashed past security on the route that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to take after addressing a rally in Bengaluru. He was holding a “chombu”. Videos of this incident went viral. In another embarrassment to the BJP and Janata Dal (Secular), former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, who was seated next to Modi, held up a newspaper carrying the “chombu” ad to critique it during a public rally. Edited videos of this were also used to ridicule the BJP. 

All this forced saffron party leaders including state president BY Vijayendra to hit back, accusing the Congress of emptying the state’s treasury. 

Over the two days, the Congress ran two more ads, one on price rise and the other on alleged tax injustice. The first one was run in both English and Kannada dailies, with slogans in the language of the newspaper. In English, it ran with the slogan “Everything is expensive in Achche Din”. This was followed by another ad only in Kannada, which appeared only in Kannada papers on how Karnataka gets only Rs 13 for every Rs 100 it sends to the Union government. 

On April 22, the BJP’s ad invoked Hindutva rhetoric, including the ‘love jihad’ bogey over the murder of Neha Hiremath, who was killed by her former classmate in Hubballi on April 18. This ad was only placed in Kannada newspapers under the slogan “Congress Danger, Vote BJP for security and safety”. It referred to several issues including the cooker blast in Mangaluru, SC ST funds, a riot in Bengaluru in August 2020, Karnataka’s share in Cauvery water, the Rameshwaram Cafe blast, Pakistan Zindabad slogans in the Vidhana Soudha, people falling prey to Naxals, and cow slaughter.

Read: Neha’s murder: A rising number of men in Karnataka are killing women they feel entitled to

'Congress danger' ads in Kannada newspapers
'Congress danger' ads in Kannada newspapers

In another ad with the “Congress Danger” slogan, the BJP claimed that the state’s treasury was empty and so one must bid goodbye to development. 

Karnataka votes in two phases — April 26 and May 7. Campaigning stops 48 hours before voting day.

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