BJP Hobbled In Karnataka By Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan, As Sidda Takes Advantage
Even Amit Shah has become a subject of mockery.
Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, has been uncharacteristically flubbing repeatedly making blooper after blooper on the Karnataka election trail. This has left Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah in splits.
While fine-tuning campaign strategy over a commercially encrypted software and candidate selection with Rahul Gandhi, it barely takes Siddaramaiah seconds to send the latest Shah snafu to Gandhi and the INC IT cell, which then proceeds to mock Shah.
Shah, the unchallenged emperor of the electoral turf, the commander of the mightiest election machinery, and more if you believe the embedded panna-pramukhs in the media does not like to be laughed at.
Currently, bearing the brunt of Shah’s wrath is the hapless BJP face for CM, B.S. Yeddyurappa, who got a public ticking off at the farmer’s event held recently for not getting a decent crowd and for making Shah wait.
Yeddyurappa, Shah and rabble-rouser Union Minister Ananth Hedge who is known for his serial Dalit baiting remarks, are leading the BJP’s charge but at halftime are finding the going tough.
Sources say, that Shah had predicted a walkover for the BJP and initial party surveys buttressed his claim. Shah had told Modi that he would ensure the BJP’s majority in the Rajya Sabha and reduce the Congress to two states in line with his war cry of “Congress Mukt Bharat” is finding Karnataka tough terrain.
This is mainly due to two reasons: first, Siddaramaiah has in a canny move demanded that Lingayats, who form 17 percent form the largest voter community in Karnataka be given the status of a religious minority. The Lingayats, relevant in 100 of 224 seats, are enthused by this move. This has caused discomfiture to Yeddyurappa who is a Lingayat, and who, when he broke away from the BJP briefly after he was removed as CM, had supported this demand.
Shah has angrily derided the move as “anti Hindu”, thus causing a vertical divide in the BJP. Shah is stuck between a rock and a hard place as the RSS, the BJP’s ideological mentor, can never allow any division in the unified “Hindu Samaj” which remains its ideological goal and leitmotif. Says a senior RSS ideologue angrily to me: “The Sangh does not care about elections. We have patience. We waited 70 years to come to complete power. We will never tolerate any division in the Hindu Samaj. We want to ensure that all Hindus come under the Sangh’s umbrella, and this minority move will never be accepted by us.”
The RSS pushback has made the going tough for Shah. He knows that if he does not play ball and publicly oppose the move, the RSS could make the going tough in the mother of all battles – General Elections 2019.
The second reason is, that Gandhi has given Siddaramaiah complete command of Karnataka and is giving the BJP a run for its Hindu agenda. He has been visiting temples and mutts much like the way he did in Gujarat, and while the temple run is considered cynical opportunism by his critics, it has unsettled the BJP. Says a senior Congress leader: “We refuse to concede the Hindu plank to the BJP. We are better Hindus as unlike these Hindutva silo-bound people. We practise true Hinduism which means we don’t hate any citizen. Hindutva is just a covert way for them to attack Muslims and try to legitimise taking away their constitutional rights.”
Siddaramaiah has also tapped into a sub-national strain in Karnataka with his emphasis on a State flag and primacy given to Kannadiga. This is anathema to the “Hindi, Hindu-Hindustan” BJP, which despite cobbling together governments in the North East and winning Tripura, remains very much a party of the Hindi heartland. Tokenism, such as making Venkiah Naidu from Andhra Pradesh Vice-President, does not cut much ice. Naidu, who spent his entire political career in the Rajya Sabha, would have been unlikely to even win a mayoral poll in his native, Andhra Pradesh.
Siddaramaiah has also taken lessons from Jayalalitha in the art of unleashing welfare schemes. Consider his Annabhagya (free distribution of rice), Ksheeradhare (subsidy for milk), Vidyasiri (hostel facilities for students) and Indira canteens, and you know that the voters have goodies galore to consider.
The RSS is extremely uncomfortable with the Karnataka sub-national theme as it goes against its core tenets of a monolithic Bharat Varsha (India). This has tied Yeddyurappa’s hands to a great extent as Shah will simply not countenance a campaign taking on Siddaramaiah with similar promises. The tension between the central BJP and the Karnataka state unit is simmering uneasily with elections barely a month away.
Shah’s plans of a walkover are being met with a determined opponent as the Congress is fighting for its electoral life; Karnataka is the last big state which remains in its kitty. Interestingly while Shah has been campaigning extensively, Modi has largely kept away from the campaign trail so far. This has caused huge chatter within the upper echelons of the BJP. After all, Modi is the BJP’s greatest election winning weapon, or is he as a rival queried to me sardonically.
Shah is now left with the BJP’s default option- polarisation. But, after the Gorakhpur and Phoolpur debacle, even Hindutva poster boy, UP CM Yogi Adityanath has stopped his campaign trips to Karnataka.
Sources say, that the BJP is not confident that polarisation will work in the South, with the Finance Commission recommendations causing more heartburn than beef eating. Mohan Bhagwat, RSS chief made no bones about the fact that the RSS was against the Lingayat move, just as he had opposed reservations before the Bihar elections.
And, while Modi and Shah are happy to do whatever it takes to reduce the Congress to two states, and by winning Karnataka set the tone for general election season, the RSS has them on a leash. Sensing this Gandhi and Siddaramaiah are upping the federal ante. The Karnataka results will tell us what the Indian voter prefers.
Swati Chaturvedi is a Delhi based journalist.