What was considered as an invincible bastion in Tripura held by the Communists for 25 years fell just a month ago. The BJP, after replacing the red flag with its saffron in the north-eastern state, appears eager to replicate its success story in Karnataka as well. The question remains whether Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, a hard nut to crack, will allow the BJP to realise its much-cherished dream.
BJP’s bid to do a Tripura
With the southern state poised to go to the polls on May 12, the BJP’s best bet, with the help of the Parivar groups, is to borrow its `time-tested’ poll strategy from Tripura. An army of around 1.5 lakh karyakartas were fanned out into 224 assembly segments in the poll-bound state well before the election kicked off, it is said. Booth level management is at the core of this strategy.
According to Raka Sudhakar Rao, a senior RSS functionary who has been part of the network, a two-pronged plan is put in place--Panna Pramukh and Shakti Kendra.
Each one to catch one
A “pramukh” or karyakarta is assigned to deal with a page of voter lists containing 60 voters in a booth. He is expected to establish personal contact with each and every member of the voters figuring on the page and receive feedback from them on the winning prospects of his party and shortcomings as well, in the course of a series of interactions. The feedback will be posted to the top leadership for corrective measures. The booth committee with a vibrant functioning will become “Shakti Kendra” or a model for the rest of the booths in clusters. Each cluster comprises five booths and each one is covered by 20 karyakartas. “We have been working on these lines for more than one-and-a-half years”, he told TNM. Sudhakar who worked as an RSS full-timer in the northeast for several years asserts, “Situation for the BJP in Karnataka is as conducive as in Tripura”.
It’s advantage BJP in coastal Karnataka and Dakshina Karnataka as it rides high on the Hindutva sentiment in these regions. Prabhakar Bhatt, RSS (Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in-charge of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, stated that the Parivar group’s launch itself into the electioneering is an unprecedented move since the election in Karnataka is considered as a stepping stone for expansion of the group’s base in the south. Siddaramaiah’s anti-Hindu postures are in fact giving life to the BJP in these tracts, he said.
The RSS and BJP have been claiming that 22 of their workers were murdered in the coastal Karnataka region in the last 18 months. Though this number has been contested many times, the Parivar group is using this to tell voters that the Congress govt is anti-Hindu. The BJP hopes to capitalise on the polarisation on communal lines in this region. Party stalwart and former Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, also present union minister, comes from coastal Karnataka. Besides, the BJP enjoys a considerable base in central Karnataka (Hubli-Dharwad region) represented by another former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar. “Also we enjoy a good support base in Bengaluru. Winning 14 out of 28 assembly segments from the city under hostile conditions in 2013, speak of our strengths in the capital city”, Sudhakar said.
Besides, the BJP is building social engineering in its favour by exposing the skewed distribution of power only in favour of certain communities during the Congress regime. Certain communities such as Vokkaligas, Brahmins and BCs have become CMs in the Congress regime for most part of the period, denying equity in distribution of power. The election managers from the BJP are highlighting the point that there were very few leaders like Nijalingappa from the Lingayat community who became chief ministers in the Congress regime. This goes alongside the tipping of party state president BS Yedyurappa from the dominant Lingayat community for the CM post. It’s true we are not a force to reckon with in old Mysore region and in Mysore-Mandya sugar belt area. Yet we will have good gains elsewhere”, Sudhakar added.
The other side of the coin
However, Congress spokesperson and MLC VS Ugrappa dismissed the Parivar’s claims to repeat the Tripura show as a “daydream”.
“We have a strong mascot in our leader Siddaramaiah who is effectively countering the BJP in its own language and idiom with his son-of-the-soil image”, Ugrappa said. With the AHINDA agenda, Siddu’s camp is confident of rallying the minorities, weaker sections and Dalits in favour of the Congress and countering the BJP’s communal agenda effectively. The Congress CM himself comes from Kuruba (shepherd community) from the Backward Classes.
Siddaramaiah has galvanised his party rank and file with his home-grown anti-Hindi-Hindutva jibes from day one of his electioneering. The Congress leader hit out at BJP general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao the other day for tweeting in Hindi, on his choosing Badami as a second seat for contesting along with Chamundeswari. The Congress leader in his typical style tweeted, “Sir, tweet in Kannada or English. Don’t understand Hindi”.
Siddaramaiah, while launching the election campaign in his Badami assembly segment, gave a new south-north dimension to his fight with the BJP by drawing a parallel with the historical battle that incidentally took place in Badami (then capital of Chalukyas) between the native king Pulakeshini-II and Harshavardhan, who invaded from north, in 618 CE. Strikingly, the Badami king defeated his rival and forced him to retreat.
Besides, Siddaramaiah puts his repertoire of gimmicks to good use, to woo voters and taunt rivals. He ensured the display of portraits of Basavanna, a 12th century reformer and cult figure of Lingayats, in all the government offices; launch of Anna Bhagyam scheme on Basavanna Jayanthi and passing an Assembly resolution to accord minority religion status for the community. “After all, Karnataka is home to social reform movements. Therefore, it gives no space to divisive politics with a communal agenda”, says Ugrappa. It is to be seen whether the BJP’s ambition to repeat a Tripura in a triangular Karnataka poll battle, becomes a reality.
(Note: Views expressed by the author are personal.)