The joke doing the rounds in Karnataka is that BJP President Amit Shah has become the Congress party’s star campaigner. As evidence, Kannadigas offered a video clip where Shah declared that if anyone ran the most corrupt government in the country, it was Yeddyurappa.
While that may have been a Freudian slip, Shah has also put his Karnataka party colleagues in a fix with his public declaration that the central government will never accept the Lingayat community’s demand for minority religion status.
BJP’s Wall of Shame
“Chanakya” Shah’s masterstroke of picking Yeddyurappa as chief ministerial candidate has also backfired, as he is synonymous with brazen corruption and instability in public memory. People recall how Yeddyurappa was the first ever ex-chief minister of the state to go to jail for illegal land dealings. Many of his ministerial colleagues were also jailed and others resigned when they were caught red-handed in corrupt or criminal acts.
But the BJP does not seem to have learnt any lessons from the rejection it received from the people of Karnataka in 2013. Its list of candidates demonstrates that the party is running out of ideas and options. The list includes Somashekhara Reddy and Sriramulu of the Reddy brothers’ clique which was accused of illegal mining on a grand scale.
Former ministers Katta Subramanya Naidu and Krishnaiah Setty who went to jail for corruption are on the list. Two dubious former deputy chief ministers are also included – KS Eshwarappa, who was found with several currency counting machines in his basement and R Ashoka who is accused of diverting land meant for beggars. BJP leaders who faced charges of sexual harassment or rape, Renukacharya and Halappa figure prominently.
In 2013, an ashamed BJP denied a ticket to its MLA Y Sampangi when he was caught taking bribes. That shame is gone and he is back too. Not satisfied with the long list of in-house corrupt candidates, the BJP has given a ticket to Mallikarjun Khuba from JD(S), who was caught extorting money during the last Rajya Sabha elections. BJP’s pattern of selecting the same old tainted faces, demonstrates that its anti-corruption narrative is fake and showcases its serious talent deficit.
To complicate matters, Shah’s rejection of the Lingayat’s demand has also created major difficulties for the BJP. This large, dominant community, which helped Yeddyurappa become chief minister, has seen its legitimate demands rejected by a hypocritical BJP President.
Lingayats remember that Yeddyurappa had petitioned the UPA government to grant the community minority status in 2013, but was rejected on procedural grounds. Now BJP spokespersons are losing their heads trying to explain their party’s convoluted positions but the damage has already been done.
The huge turnout in the coastal region that greeted Rahul Gandhi suggests that the people there are sick of BJP’s attempt to convert their picturesque part of Karnataka into a Hindutva laboratory through constant efforts at polarisation.
Karnataka’s anthem features the line “sarva janaangada shantiya thota” which means that the state is the peaceful garden of all religions/communities.
Under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, that self-image of Kannadigas is regaining importance, as are other symbols of Kannada pride such as the new state flag (which makes official the familiar yellow and red flags that have featured prominently across the state since the Karnataka unification movement).
Why K’taka Voters May Shrug Off Anti-Incumbency Tendencies
The other reason for the people of Karnataka to shrug off their usual anti-incumbency is because Siddaramaiah has delivered admirably on the governance front. A report on Innovations in Governance by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore describes the range of path-breaking policy measures, many of which are now being adopted by the central government. A balance between carefully crafting a social safety net, ensuring fiscal prudence, investing in agriculture, and supporting innovative startups, the Congress is able go to the people with a solid report card. The confidence with which it released its first list of candidates for nearly all constituencies in one go, and how it replaced more than a dozen sitting MLAs, suggests that the party is approaching the election with a will to win.
The one party that is hoping for a hung assembly is former Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), who is eager to hold the key to government formation. The JD (S) will certainly secure some seats in the Kaveri basin, where it is mainly in a direct fight with the Congress. But already there is a groundswell of concern that JD (S) will cut into anti-BJP votes and actually help BJP.
This prospect is reminding the public of the horrible instability that Karnataka witnessed during the JD (S)-BJP coalition era and the general lack of trustworthiness of the JD (S). This is likely to lead to more strategic voting, away from the JD (S) towards the Congress as a way of keeping the tainted BJP out and to ensure that Karnataka will deliver a clear majority to the Congress come 15 May 2018. That’s where this crucial battle for the soul of India is headed.
(Prof M V Rajeev Gowda is a Congress Member of Parliament and Chairman of the AICC Research Department. He can be reached at @rajeevgowda. Views expressed are personal. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)