With just under a month to go for the crucial Assembly elections in Karnataka, here’s how Congress and the BJP stack up on various issues and after recent developments.
Hello and welcome to moneycontrol, my name is Rakesh. Today in our run-up to the Karnataka election we have yet another spotlight on it. This time we are putting the hand and the lotus in the balance. Well, Karnataka’s future hangs in that balance, and that is precisely what we are casting the spotlight on, BJP vs the Congress, one month to go for more of the same. Welcome back to another edition of our spotlight on the Karnataka elections.
Being a Kannadiga myself I can’t help but be reminded of a particular verse from a book called Mankuthimmana Kagga. Mankuthimmana Kagga or dull Thimma’s rigmarole or the folderol of foolish Thimma, as I might translate it, nobody has asked me to translate it, but that’s how I would translate it. It is a collection of about 945 verses, each is about four lines in length and explores the complexity of life and the various aspects of life in simple striking words. One verse that keeps coming back to my head is this. “Insert Kannada Verse”. Even as a worm lives and dies, and land erodes away, somewhere deep in the ocean a new island emerges. Something veins here, something grows elsewhere. There’s no end to this universe. If there is no end to the universe there certainly seems to be no end to the barbs exchanged by the BJP and Congress in the lead up to the Karnataka election.
The all-important 2018 Karnataka assembly election is now just under a month away. The summer is hotting up and so is the temperature in politics. Bangalore is expected to touch 40 C this summer. We could talk about the environmental depletion but India is still some decades away from voting on environmental issues. We are still a roti-kapda-makaaan electorate, apparently. Well, oota-batte-mane in the current context.
Ok here’s the main reason the entire country seems unusually invested in the election in Karnataka. Bangalore traffic. It’s so relatable. Everyone has gotten stuck in the outrageous traffic in Bangalore, at one time or another. Who doesn’t dread the words - silk board? Or electronic city? Or Whitefield? And the nation wants to know if Bellandur Lake will be set on fire on Election Day. That would be fitting. A lake on fire in the garden city. Scorched earth.
Back to the politics. A loss in Karnataka will put the Congress party’s future in the country on life support. Faced with existential threats, irrelevance and humiliation on a scale they’ve never had to suffer, the grand old party of India has upped the ante.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has decided to go scorched earth in the run up to the election. He has staked his fortune on caste arithmetic and his govt has even gone to the extent of profiling the state’s policemen based on their castes. All’s fair in love and war, it is said and, well, this is political war. Of that, there is little doubt. His opponent is the redoubtable Amit Shah. Sure the leftists despise him but Shah has demonstrated that he knows how to win elections against the wiles of a very experienced adversary.
We haven’t seen any big ticket issues thrown about so far but that doesn’t mean the campaigning is bereft of ugliness. Both sides traded terms of endearments like Rahul Gandhi being just a privileged rich kid, Sidda being corrupt, a coward, a modern day tughlaq, a superstitious hypocrite with a thing for lemons. The congress claimed Shah has bribed people, handed out cash, insulted Kannadiga pride and insinuated that the BJP is trying to bring Karnataka under the thumb of Hindi-speaking North Indians. Like I said, it’s ugly.The campaign now reads and sounds like a playlist of BJP and Congress’ greatest hits. Let’s review the hits and the performances, shall we? Welcome to the jungle, we got fun n games.
- Track 1 – Seedha Rupaiya Sarkar – by Narendra Modi
The opening salvo was by the big man himself. The man who many believe is the one thing that stops the BJP from devolving into what Arun Shourie described as ‘Congress with a cow’ kicked off the campaign back in February with a cover version of the popular Congress Mukt Bharat localized for Karnataka.
Modi launched into the Siddaramaiah govt, calling it a seedha rupaiya sarkar, meaning a money-first govt that sees governance as secondary. He said there is an upsurge in resentment against the Karnataka govt and that it must not be allowed to continue. The irony of Modi saying a govt must not be allowed to continue when speaking on the occasion of Yeddyurappa’s 75th birthday is something. Because, you know, that is what was done to the BJP during its coalition govt with the Janata Dal. Come on, it’s a little funny. Also, Narendra Modi essentially endorsing a candidate on his 75th birthday a few years after all the talk that Modi believes 75 is the age politicians should call it quits…Margadarshak mandal and all that….ah, how times change, eh? And accusing Siddaramaiah of corruption with Yeddyurappa on stage! Yeah, we know he was eventually acquitted in the 40-crore illegal mining case which gave us the delightful phrase “Republic of Bellary”. But that still is not great optics, one would think.
In any case, the BJP in Karnataka has come full circle and is now projecting Yeddyurappa as the CM candidate, especially with the Lingayat fiasco that played out a few weeks ago.
Narendra Modi also riffed on expected lines– especially Congress Mukt Bharat. “You see across the country. Whenever the people have got an opportunity they have first removed Congress. Because the country has come to know that the root cause for all our ills is Congress’ culture and when there is congress culture, everything that we see is not good…..nothing good we can see," Modi said. Not to put too fine a point on it Modi-bhai, but this song is getting a bit jaded.
Modi also took a dig at the undisclosed income and jewelry found during raids conducted by the income tax department on Energy minister DK Shivakumar in August 2017. Some reports say up to 300 crores in undisclosed income was uncovered including jewelry worth 15 crores. “You get bundles of notes from houses of leaders. Where did this money come from?...Whose money is this? If this is not seedha Rupaiya what is it?" asked the Prime Minister in his inimitable rhetorical style. Not that anyone could answer.
Around the same time, Rahul Gandhi was getting trolled by chants of Modi’s name in Hubli. The election campaign was well and truly on.
Track 2 – Morally Unfit – By K Siddaramaiah
Hitting back at Prime Minister Modi for calling his govt a 10% commission govt, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah held nothing back as he dished out the old favorite Morally Unfit.
“Even if Modi makes a hundred visits to the state or Amit Shah engineers communal riots, we will win the upcoming state elections,” the Congress leader declared. He accused Modi of supporting corruption by failing to set up a Lokpal in the four years since getting elected or not naming a Lokayukta for the nine years he was the chief minister of Gujarat. He did not speak like the Prime Minister of this country. According to me, he is morally unfit to be the Prime Minister,” the chief minister said.
There’s also a hidden gem here. Breathing fire and brimstone, Siddaramaiah hit back at Modi with “PM Modi should give evidence on the charges he levelled against our government. Let him prove that we take commission. If he says we take 10 percent cut, then his government takes 90 percent commission.” Wait, so is the chief minister admitting to taking a 10% commission while accusing the centre of taking 90% commission?
Well, that was a bit underwhelming as far as political repartee goes.
Wake up Sid. Better comebacks, my friend, better comebacks.
Track 3 – Tughlaq Durbar – by BS Yeddyurappa
This was like Yeddyurappa accusing the chief minister of being on an acid trip and taking decisions like the 14th century sultan of Delhi, Mohammed bin Tughlaq, who shifted the empire’s capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in Maharashtra, then back to Delhi. No, the sultan wasn’t tripping on acid. But it must take something strong to make you decide to shift the capital of an empire, then back again. Some say Tughlaq was a visionary. Most consider him batshit crazy. So why did Yeddyurappa sing this tune?
Towards the end of March, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate took aim at what he called the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. He was referring specifically to the daylight stabbing of Karnataka’s most senior anti-corruption officer P Vishwanatha Shetty outside his office in Bengaluru.
“When there is no safety for high-rank officers, will there be (any) for ordinary people? Law and order has completely collapsed." Yeddyurappa said when speaking to the media. This was Yeddyurappa stepping forward for his guitar solo. And then came the gratuitous extended jam.
“It seems the government is number one is in terms of atrocities on women and breakdown of law and order in the state. It seems Siddaramaiah is running the government like a Tughlaq durbar. We have to bear it for two months," he said.
Track 4 – Shock Laga – by Amit ShahBJP president Amit Shah started campaigning in Karnataka and wasted no time getting into his groove. He went to Siddaramaiah’s home ground, the old Mysuru region – covering Hassan, Chamarajanagar, Mysore, Mandya & Ramnagara - and declared that the chief minister and his party would receive the biggest shock on May 12th.
The people of Karnataka have made up their minds to throw out the government as they were disappointed, Shah said.
Of course, this is how Amit Shah begins any election campaign. Formulaic, scripted, predictable. But what else are you packing, Mr. Shah? You are known for your research.
Ah yes, Congress, corruption and money. “The relationship between corruption and Congress party is like fish and water," Shah said, adding that “the Karnataka government is like an ATM for the Congress to indulge in corruption.”
Now generally, Karnataka elections tend to give the capital Bangalore the cold shoulder as a citadel of ignorant snobs. Not that we aren’t. But politicians tend to play on the sentiments of
smaller towns where people feel left behind. Not one to miss out, Shah said, “Though Bengaluru shows good revenue, this is not percolating down to smaller cities and villages.” Well played, Amit Shah. You do know your audience.
Shah then spoke about a hot button issue – farmer suicides. There are estimates that around 3500 farers in Karnataka have committed suicide between 2013 and 2017. Over 2000 of those were in just the last 3 years largely due to drought and failing farms. Explosive stuff this, the stuff that pulls down govts. Only Maharashtra has seen a higher number of farmer suicides.
Siddaramaiah had dismissed the number of suicides as a conspiracy. Hassan, one of the districts in the region of old Mysuru, saw 806 farmer suicides. Shah seized the opportunity and criticized the chief minister for callousness – “In my political life, I have never come across such an irresponsible statement on farmers' suicides,” said the BJP president.
Shah then took a swipe at Siddaramaiah’s decision to grant the status of a religious minority to Lingayats. The CM had acquiesced to demands from some lingayats to officially make them a minority who are separate from Hindus. Shah was blistering in his criticism of this maneuver. “This is a nefarious strategy of the government for political gains. Had Siddaramaiahji been serious about giving minority status to Lingayats, he should have done it in the early stages of his five-year term. Why now, after four-and-a-half years?” he asked.
The immediate question that follows is, why hasn’t the centre agreed to this request? Shah shot back that the govt hasn’t received the proposal in the administrative format. “Why don't you ask this state government why it has not sent it so far?” he said. Hmm. Siddaramaiah seems like quite the player at such mind games. He must be brilliant at poker.
Amit Shah’s attack on Siddaramaiah seemed to have hit the intended target as the Congress went on the defensive, not using the “fact checking” approach they’ve been using this year.
Track 5 – Bad Role Mode (I am disappoint) – by Siddaramaiah v Amit Shah
I’m disappointed, you’re disappointed, this whole state is disappointed, said Amit Shah.
Ok, now that I’m done channeling my inner Al Pacino, let’s see what Amit Shah’s relentless barrage of accusations against Siddaramaiah threw up this time.
The next exchange between the BJP president and the Karnataka CM didn’t take too long.
The adversaries now accused each other of violating the model code of conduct that the election commission prescribes for political parties and candidates. Both sides even lodged complaints with the EC.
The Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that Siddaramaiah gave Rs 2000 to a priest for performing rituals during a visit to a temple in Mysore. In a complaint to the election commission, the BJP said Siddaramaiah had paid a "bribe" of Rs 2,000 each to two women during a visit in Chamundeshwari assembly segment, from where he is likely to contest the election.
The Congress’ riposte was a counter complaint with the EC – that Shah handed a cheque of Rs 5 lakhs to the mother of an RSS worker who was allegedly murdered in 2016 in Mysore. “This is in gross violation of the model code of conduct," according to a complaint filed against Shah by Congress leaders. “It is safe to presume in the light of the ensuing elections that the money was paid with an intent to woo voters," they claimed.
Well done, gentlemen. It’s very heartwarming to watch a bunch of grown men play teacher-teacher. This election is not only ugly, it’s juvenile.
Track 6 – I Ain’t Superstitious – Siddaramaiah v BJP
Yeah, just picture Siddaramaiah grooving to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. With a twist. No, not Siddaramaiah twisting, we don’t want to picture that.
The BJP next took aim at Siddaramaiah’s penchant for superstition. Let’s step back for a bit and recount another infamous anecdote. In 2016, news broke out that the CM had changed his official vehicle because a crow sat on it. Not s*at. Sat.
His car was photographed with a crow sitting by the windshield. A few days later the vehicle was changed. And bam. Superstitious chief minister, went the interwebs. And the label stuck.
The mukhya mantra clarified that he had been talking about changing the car for a few months. “I told our office to change the car because since three years I am using this car only. I had travelled more than 2 lakh kilometres,” he said.
But we know the nature of viral news. Catchy funny things stick even when they’re not true.
Cut to April 2018. Siddaramaiah is campaigning in rural Karnataka and is pictured with a lemon on his hand. That was all the cue the BJP needed.
Superstitious Siddaramaiah, they crowed loudly. “Campaigns with a lemon in hand, but brings in Anti-Superstitions Bill to demean and criminalise Hindu traditions. Hypocrisy thy name is siddaramaiah” they tweeted.
The every agile CM hit back quickly. “The chief minister replied to BJP allegation by tweeting, “When you visit a village people welcome you with lemon. That this is not a superstition is known to all Kannadigas,” he tweeted in response.
And the piece de resistance: “if you spread #FakeNews about our Anti-Superstition Law criminalising or demeaning Hindu traditions, I&B Minister Smriti Irani will hit you with her circular!” Siddaramaiah added, also taking a dig at Smriti Irani’s attempt to bring in regulation regarding the alleged menace of fake news.
Oooh! Burn, BJP! You’ve been owned. Eat crow.
Track 7 – Two Become One - by BJP feat Janata Dal
BJP got one back a bit on the chief minister who was, till now, wiping the floor of his home turf with them.
There were reports a week ago that Siddaramaiah is likely to keep a safe seat in Badami in north Karnataka as a back-up after being convinced by supporters about the dangers of relying only on the Chamundeshwari seat in view of a “deal” between the Janata Dal and the BJP.
Karnataka Congress Chief G Parameshwara, who had lost the last time by more than 30,000 votes, is also likely to contest from two seats – in Tumkur district and another seat in Bengaluru.
Siddaramaiah has won five times from Chamundeshwari between 1983 and 2008. So what’s the catch here? Badami has a lot of voters belonging to the Kuruba caste. And guess who belongs to that caste? The chief minister. Look how that worked out. Remember what we said earlier about Siddaramaiah banking on caste arithmetic? Siddaramaiah has also made way in his current constituency, Varuna in Mysore district, for his son Yatheendra.
Catching on that the CM and the state Congress president were planning to contest from two seats each, the BJP and the Janata Dal have gone on the offensive, labeling them cowards. The current MLA from Chamundeswari is a Janata Dal member. Which brings Siddaramiah’s old mentor and now adversary HD Deve Gowda into the picture. So maybe this track should be titled Bad Blood instead of 2 become one.
Here’s why. “Siddaramaiah is a megalomaniac. He is arrogant. He is abusing my party. The voters of Chamundeshwari will not like that. He will be defeated this time," said son-of-the-soil Deve Gowda. Yes, HD Deve Gowda called another man a megalomaniac. Pot, meet kettle.
Siddaramaiah dismissed all criticism and said BJP’s caste politics won’t work. But he has alienated some old supporters and is expected to see some blowback. His move to get anther safe seat does give his game away.
Score another for the BJP.
That then was the song and dance that dominated the Karnataka campaign so far. With just under a month to D-day, expect the battle to get nastier for the rivals and funnier for the voter.
It’s hard to call the election but we’re having fun with the sometimes juvenile, sometimes ludicrous and sometimes clever exchanges. There will be more to come, of that much we can be certain. Narendra Modi hasn’t even started campaigning in Karnataka. That should stir things up even more.
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