Modi makes K’taka poll acid test for 2019

S. Sethuraman 

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he stakes are very high for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deny the Congress, his arch-enemy, a second successive term in Karnataka the only southern state within saffron grasp that is, if Kannadigas fall for his tantrums all the way.

If the Modi vituperative magic does not work as much as hoped for in Karnataka, it will mean that BJP, with its current majoritarian hold over the country and wayward policies, will find the going even tougher in the battle for the Lok Sabha in 2019.

The kind of language that Modi has employed at rallies across the regions to paint the Congress in the darkest of colours has been roundly condemned in the political circles, as well as by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as “unbecoming” for the position of Prime Minister.

Despite the setback that the BJP received in Gujarat, the PM’s home state, although narrowly retaining in Assembly election last year, and the series of bypoll losses for the Lok Sabha and crucial Assembly seats in the BJP-ruled states of UP, Rajasthan and MP, the party president, Amit Shah, audaciously targets 50% of the votes in 2019 for continued BJP-RSS dominance. The BJP and its allies scored 31% of the votes in 2014.

Currently, Karnataka will provide the litmus test of whether it can become the ‘Southern Gateway’ to the South, as a whole, for BJP, still considered a ‘northern party’ with its unilingual (enforcing Hindi) and sectarian (Hindutva) approaches. A North-South divide is already emerging and that reflects on Modi’s style of governance, which is seen to ignore the basic interests fiscal and developmental of certain states in the South.

That Modi, Shah and swarms of BJP ministers, deserting the national capital, engaged themselves in hectic campaigning in Karnataka underscored the fears of losing again the ‘Southern Gateway’ (after 2013) while the tide was seemingly in favour of the Congress with not much of anti-incumbency in evidence.

Siddharamaiah, the chief minister, also ranked at the top of choices for chief ministership among the three parties including the BJP and the JD(S) in the popularity polls. And, apart from his fairly creditable record with welfare programmes and development, Siddharamaiah has valiantly stood up to match Modi’s barbs.

Indeed, he has set a new record in sending a legal notice to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, Shah and other leaders for making wild allegations against the chief minister. The Rs100-crore legal notice charged the Prime Minister with “intentionally and maliciously” making “false and derogatory statements” against Siddharamaiah in public speeches by calling his government “10% ki sarkar”, “seeda rupaiya sarkar” and so on.

The poll campaign, four days ahead of the May 12 election, was at its zenith, with Modi and Shah, on behalf of the BJP, stepping up their propaganda designed to swing voters away from the Congress, although the party lacked a popular chief ministerial face (B Yeddyurappa, having been once removed from the party on corruption charges).

For the Congress, now under greater pressure from Modi’s propaganda blasts, Rahul Gandhi, joined by his mother, have kept up the momentum, not yielding ground. Former Prime Minister Deve Gowda and son Kumaraswamy, a former chief minister, were equally confident of strong gains for the JD(S) to form the government by itself, instead of the role of ‘king-maker’ that it has played in the past. Modi’s desperation is palpable for a win in Karnataka, which he is seeking to secure “by any means” call it baseless allegations, or mis-statements. The reasons are obvious. First, if the BJP cannot wrest Karnataka from the Congress, it cannot claim to be the only pan-India party and Bharat would not have become “Congress mukt”. Its decisive voice will be mainly in the North and in western India and, to a smaller extent, in the northeastern region.

Second, at the national level, the worry for the BJP would be the Congress hold on Karnataka, giving a new, dynamic thrust to the regional parties to move closer to the Congress once the latter has consolidated itself with further gains in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh due for elections later in the year.

All these trends, coupled with the winning combinations of anti-BJP forces in such states as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha, would make it extremely difficult for Modi to command a majority to run a government with the authoritative style he revels in, as the country has experienced over the past four years.

Modi must have calculated that stalling the Congress in Karnataka will help him ensure that the BJP retains its stronghold in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. And that will, ideally, help the BJP go forward with its ‘New India’ plan by 2022.

(The writer is a political commentator)