Why Modi's campaign strategy in Karnataka may blow up in its face
While the PM was well within his rights to focus on deaths, people will question his silence on Gauri Lankesh's killing in September last year.
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Last year, the BJP decided to put Kerala on its radar. It went ballistic against the LDF government for not curbing political violence in the state, specifically in chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's home district of Kannur. The reason for its outrage was the systematic targeting of RSS-BJP workers by CPM activists. What they conveniently glossed over was the nature of scoreboard-like revenge killings in which over the past five decades, the RSS is equally guilty of targeting CPM cadre.
The Kerala template is being replicated in Karnataka, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi describing it as a state where the Congress regime has done exceedingly well in "ease of doing murders". The intention was to raise the pitch on the 23 murders in Karnataka since 2013 when the Congress came to power. The BJP claims these are members of the extended Sangh parivaar, done to death under the benevolent gaze of those in power. "This isn't just political violence, this is political terrorism, the same kind that we see in Pakistan," tweeted the BJP's Karnataka unit.
Image: AP photo
Data is never quite an effective rebuttal when the tone and tenor is emotional and accusatory. The Congress claims only nine of the 23 deaths were communal in nature and the accused in those cases were arrested. The others, it says, were cases of suicides, road accidents or personal rivalries. But that did not prevent Modi from indirectly dubbing the regime as one with blood on its hands.
What is the BJP's strategy in Karnataka? The intention is to string together a victimhood narrative, just like in Kerala. The charge is that the Congress is out to eliminate its political opponents. The underlying theme is that the victims are all Hindus, with the accompanying rhetoric pushing the Congress firmly into the Muslim camp.
What is left unsaid, like in Kannur, is that at least in coastal Karnataka, both the Popular Front of India and the right-wing organisations like Bajrang Dal, Sri Rama Sene are equally responsible for indulging in moral policing and creating a vulgar communal divide. Admittedly, it is the state's responsibility to crack down on anyone who disturbs law and order, but the tit-for-tat obsession carries the risk of making the coast go the Kannur way.
Modi's clever use of the business phrase was two-fold - one to create a sense of shock in Bangalore's entrepreneurial community and send across a message to the opinion-makers in the city. Two, attach the tag of criminals to the Congress in Karnataka upfront. It was almost like "ease of doing murders" was Modi's riposte to Rahul Gandhi's "Gabbar Singh tax" jibe during the Gujarat campaign. Political rhetoric never got more crime-oriented.
But while in election campaign mode, Modi was well within his rights to focus on the deaths, people will question his silence on Gauri Lankesh's killing in September last year. Right-wing elements followed by the PM on Twitter, gloating over the journalist's death only made people suspicious about the political affiliations of the killers. While the state police have not covered itself with glory with its inability to crack either the Gauri Lankesh case or the rationalist MM Kalburgi murder case of August 2015, Modi should have used the stage to convey that he is equally distressed over every instance of crime.
Modi's buffet spread of taunts during the public meeting in Bangalore on Sunday (February 4) included labelling the Siddaramaiah sarkar as 10 per cent government, alluding to alleged rampant corruption and the presence of mafias of all kinds ruling the roost.
The BJP's chief ministerial face BS Yeddyurappa added his two-bit by calling Karnataka the "number 1 corrupt state" in the country. The irony, as the Congress claimed, was not lost on anyone as Yeddyurappa went to jail and had to step aside as CM, on corruption charges. The BJP is fighting the perception battle by saying Yeddyurappa's judicial custody did not amount to conviction.
It is a mystery why the BJP wants to focus on corruption and communal polarisation in Karnataka when it could do better by listing the failures of the Congress government - from agrarian distress to urban stress. The BJP's own track record with regard to corruption is not exactly glowing.
The people of Karnataka have not quite forgotten how "Operation Lotus" allegedly funded by the Reddy brothers was floated to get the numbers for the BJP government in 2008.
To focus on beef and cow yagna and use that as the yardstick to define a Hindu is to look at a progressive state like Karnataka through the prism of the cowbelt. Because the common man in Karnataka is more concerned with a better quality of life, with the Banglorean in particular hoping for a life without potholes on roads, frothing lakes and traffic woes.
The BJP's Karnataka strategy needs a decisive tweak.