PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS

IN THE END, KAR­NATAKA WAS A FA­MIL­IAR STORY. THE BJP’S BLITZKRIEG CAM­PAIGN AND STAR CAM­PAIGNER NAREN­DRA MODI’S LATE CHARGE TOOK IT TO THE CUSP OF VIC­TORY AGAIN

India Today - - COVER STORY | KARNATAKA ELECTIONS - By Uday Mahurkar

FFOR JOUR­NAL­ISTS WHO HAVE cov­ered the BJP cam­paigns, in both Gu­jarat and Kar­nataka, the con­trast in mood has been stark: on De­cem­ber 17, 2017, a day be­fore the Gu­jarat results, the party’s work­ers, of what­ever rank, were in a state of high anx­i­ety. On the eve of the Kar­nataka poll results, May 14, the mood was one of cir­cum­spect con­fi­dence. Some said the party would form the gov­ern­ment with 130 seats, oth­ers pre­dicted 120 seats but even the pes­simists were cer­tain the BJP would emerge as the sin­gle largest party.

In the event, the op­ti­mism proved rea­son­ably valid. The BJP did emerge as the sin­gle largest party, of course, but it fell just short of a ma­jor­ity. It was un­lucky to lose eight seats (ex­actly the num­ber that would have given it a clear ma­jor­ity) by less than 2,500 votes. The Congress tally, on the other hand, slid from 122 to 78 seats. The real dif­fer­ence be­tween the two par­ties was in the de­tails: the Congress se­cured a slightly higher per­cent­age of votes—37.9 per cent to the BJP’s 36.2 per cent—but the even spread of BJP’s votes due to bet­ter poll ma­chin­ery at the grass­roots and bet­ter poll man­age­ment by party chief Amit Shah and his team de­liv­ered 104 seats com­pared to the Congress’s 78.

Clearly, anti­in­cum­bency against the Congress on var­i­ous counts played a big role in the BJP’s win. But yet again, it was the po­tent com­bi­na­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Shah that proved de­ci­sive, bring­ing the party within reach of its 21st state gov­ern­ment. Mean­while, the Congress has been to re­duced to gov­ern­ing just two states and a Union ter­ri­tory in the coun­try.

If the BJP man­ages to form and sus­tain a gov­ern­ment in Kar­nataka, the party’s state gov­ern­ments will rule 64.4 per cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion, com­pared to the Congress’s 2.5 per cent—which is less than the Tri­namool Congress (7.54 per cent), the AIADMK (5.76 per cent) and even the Biju Janata Dal (3.47 per cent). As Union hu­man re­source devel­op­ment min­is­ter Prakash Javadekar, the BJP’s in­charge for the Kar­nataka elec­tions, put it: “The Kar­nataka win was an­other great dis­play of how PM Modi and party pres­i­dent Shah cor­nered an op­po­nent af­ter care­fully study­ing the poll sce­nario and then chart­ing out a sharp strat­egy.” Javadekar’s co­charge and Union rail­way min­is­ter Piyush Goyal adds: “Amitb­hai’s macro and mi­cro plan­ning and his un­par­al­leled hard work to con­vert the PM’s im­age into votes gave us this great lead.”

TWIN OUT­REACH

De­spite the el­e­ment of hy­per­bole, Shah’s rep­u­ta­tion as the ablest elec­tion strate­gist in the coun­try is bound to be en­hanced by the Kar­nataka results. This was ev­i­dent from the day he be­gan work here in Jan­uary, im­me­di­ately set­ting about to re­solve is­sues be­tween squab­bling state lead­ers in­clud­ing B.S. Yed­dyu­rappa. His en­ergy and at­ten­tion to de­tail were sus­tained through to the last 11 days of the cam­paign as he or­ches­trated the PM’s tour: 21 pub­lic ral­lies in six days, cov­er­ing all the crit­i­cal re­gions of the state. On the re­main­ing four days of the cam­paign, Shah ar­ranged for the PM to ad­dress lakhs of work­ers from var­i­ous wings of the Kar­nataka BJP through the Naren­dra Modi app on their smart­phones.

These BJP branches in­cluded the Yuva Mor­cha, the Mahila Mor­cha, the Kisan Mor­cha , the SC and ST Mor­chas among oth­ers. The PM’s call was beamed to the party faith­ful from all sec­tions of so­ci­ety in Kar­nataka from the back of­fice in Delhi. The speeches were also car­ried in heavy ro­ta­tion by lo­cal chan­nels with

the re­sult that Modi dom­i­nated pro­ceed­ings dur­ing the last days of the cam­paign. “Such use of tech­nol­ogy is un­prece­dented,” says Amit Malviya, who heads the BJP’s IT cell. In fact, the BJP even dis­trib­uted smart­phones to the few work­ers who didn’t have any, so that they could join the party’s in­no­va­tive out­reach.

In pub­lic meet­ings, the prime min­is­ter con­cen­trated on at­tack­ing the Congress, fo­cus­ing on Rahul Gandhi and Sid­dara­ma­iah, who he sin­gled out in char­ac­ter­is­tic barbs as “Mr 10 per cent”—al­lud­ing to al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. In his ad­dress to party work­ers, by con­trast, he reeled out the de­tails of the work his gov­ern­ment had done for the poor and how the BJP gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre was writ­ing a new chap­ter in gover­nance when it came to fighting the twin na­tional chal­lenges of cor­rup­tion and poverty. The cor­rupt, big and small, were on the run, Modi de­claimed in a typ­i­cal rhetor­i­cal flour­ish.

Shah, for his part, charted out a great strat­egy based on the weak­nesses of the Congress and Sid­dara­ma­iah, on the one hand, and the pluses of the BJP, on the other. The Hin­dutva card was played sub­tly as Kar­nataka has a unique caste math dom­i­nated by Dal­its, Lin­gay­ats and Vokkali­gas. Shah vis­ited 33 Hindu mutts dur­ing the course of the cam­paign in­clud­ing some Dalit ones. He also drafted Ut­tar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, the party’s third most im­por­tant cam­paigner in Kar­nataka, with an eye on the Kan­nadiga ad­her­ents of Yogi’s Nath sect. It made a dif­fer­ence in the Vokkaliga belt as Yogi vis­ited the 1,400­year­old Adichun­chana­giri mutt of Mysore to meet its head Sri

THE BJP LOST EIGHT SEATS— WHICH WOULD HAVE GIVEN IT A CLEAR MA­JOR­ITY—BY LESS THAN 2,500 VOTES

Sri Sri Nir­malanan­danatha Swamiji to en­list his sup­port.

Inevitably, Yogi’s ar­rival also ramped up the rhetoric on ‘Mus­lim ap­pease­ment’ by the Congress, cap­i­tal­is­ing on Sid­dara­ma­iah’s plans to cel­e­brate the Bah­mani (king­dom) ut­sav and Tipu Sul­tan jayanti. The BJP cam­paign rested on the nar­ra­tive that while cel­e­brat­ing Tipu jayanti Sid­dara­ma­iah had slashed funds for the Dasara cel­e­bra­tions and re­fused funds for the World Kan­nada Sam­me­lan cit­ing a cash crunch.

By com­bin­ing such in­sin­u­a­tions with al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, Shah man­aged to tar­nish the CM as ‘divi­sive’ and ‘cor­rupt’ in the eyes of many vot­ers. The fact that Sid­dara­ma­iah, who seemed to be in com­mand till the month of Jan­uary, lost his tra­di­tional Chamundesh­wari seat by over 36,000 votes and won his other seat, Badami, by just 1,696 seats, is a marker of Shah’s suc­cess in cor­ner­ing his op­po­nent in the poll’s fi­nal phase.

While the BJP was ef­fec­tive in cap­i­tal­is­ing on Yed­dyu­rappa’s Lin­gayat base, the party may also have ben­e­fit­ted from help from an un­ex­pected quar­ter: Sid­dara­ma­iah’s self­goals. His at­tempt to di­vide the Lin­gay­ats by giv­ing them mi­nor­ity sta­tus seems to have boomerange­d. Shah and Yed­dyu­rappa were quick to seize on the move as ev­i­dence of the CM and Congress’s cyn­i­cal and divi­sive pol­i­tics. Proof that it worked: the party’s three Lin­gayat min­is­ters who had sup­ported the move for mi­nor­ity sta­tus lost their seats.

Shah was like a man pos­sessed in the last phase of the elec­tion, clock­ing in 57,135 kms, touch­ing 28 of the 30 dis­tricts of the state, ad­dress­ing 59 pub­lic meet­ings, hold­ing 25 road­shows and 38 di­a­logues with dif­fer­ent groups of so­ci­ety. There were also 18 big meet­ings of booth­level party work­ers and 10 elec­tion meet­ings.

CEL­E­BRA­TION TIME BJP work­ers ex­ult out­side the party of­fice in Ben­galuru as results come in

MAN­JU­NATH KI­RAN/AFP

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