Money, Modi, Hindutva: What makes a muted BJP positive about returning to power in Karnataka

Congress has been launching one campaign after another, JDS has begun mobilising support beyond the state, but the BJP is yet to begin its poll blitzkrieg.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Oct 11, 2022 | 1:39 AMUpdatedOct 11, 2022 | 10:35 AM

Karnataka BJP leaders offer respects to a bust of VD Savarkar at the State Executive meeting venue on Friday. (Supplied)

The BJP, which is perceived to be in constant election mode, is rather muted in Karnataka.

The Assembly elections in Karnataka are barely six months away. The Jana Sankalpa Yatra that the saffron party is beginning on Tuesday, 11 October, is its very first, and much-delayed, step towards election campaigning.

Even leaders in the saffron party agree that they have been slow in switching to election mode.

While the Congress has launched one campaign after another, the ruling BJP struggled even to celebrate its government’s anniversary, postponing it multiple times.

While Congress campaigns like “40% commission” and “PayCM” and now the Bharat Jodo Yatra have became the talk of political circles, the BJP, generally credited with having excellent control over the narrative, has been unsuccessful in countering these.

The BJP, known to be generally aggressive, quick and impactful with its counters, has remained rather dormant in the face of the continuous attack from Opposition parties as well as various civic quarters over allegations of corruption.

Low on morale but confident of victory

Despite the anti-incumbency, infighting and factionalism within its ranks and a looming leadership crisis at the state level, the BJP is confident of pulling off a poll victory.

“We have what it takes to win elections — Money, Modi and Hindutva,” a senior leader of the party and parliamentarian told South First.

The BJP, which has always had a very strong regional leader like BS Yediyurappa to lead it in elections, is heavily dependent upon central leadership of the party, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Even a small office-level event needs clearance from the high command because nobody at the state level is in decision-making positions,” rued an office bearer.

The heavy dependence on the central leadership has made the state unit docile, but the party is also banking on the same dependence to pull them through in the polls.

“Modi is very popular in Karnataka. The moment he starts addressing rallies, there is nothing to beat him and it will turn the tide in our favour,” a general secretary of the state unit told South First.

BJP workers worried

“A good student studies every day and keeps himself updated and doesn’t really take special risks when the exam nears. Just like that, the BJP too doesn’t do election management only when the polls arrive. We work 24×7,” CT Ravi, National General Secretary of the BJP had told South First in this interview.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai pays respects to slain BJYM worker Praveen Nettaru's photo in Dakshin Kannada. (Supplied)

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai pays respects to slain BJYM worker Praveen Nettaru’s photo in Dakshin Kannada. (Supplied)

Despite the statement, cadres of BJP are a worried lot, given the delay in the party giving them a roadmap to begin preparing for elections.

“The cadre is low on morale over Praveen Nettaru and Harsha murders, though the ban on PFI has lifted spirits; but we still have to counter corruption charges and we need to start now,” a former office bearer of the party opined.

From appointing three to seven members per page of the electoral role for door-to-door campaign to devising a specialised approach to constituencies where the party lost the previous election, all the plans are set in theory — but the ball is yet to be set in motion.

Money, Modi and Hindutva

Other than Modi, the party is dependent on Hindutva and money to carry its election prospects forward.

“Perception-management and expenditure are key to winning elections. PM Modi will create the right perception and the party has the money to carry out a powerful and impactful campaign and win elections,” the parliamentarian from BJP said.

Karnataka has 224 assembly constituencies and a simple majority of 113 is needed to come to power.

Opposition leaders, however, see this differently.

“Because of this money and muscle power, it is no longer enough for the Opposition to win just a simple majority. We need to win 150 seats to ensure we come to power and stay in power,” Siddaramaiah, Congress Legislative Party Chief had told South First before the Bharat Jodo Yatra entered the state.

One bitten, twice shy over its MLAs jumping ship to the BJP, the Congress has set its targets higher.

Hijab, halal, azaan

The trump card to ensure victory, the BJP is hoping, will be Hindutva. Even as recently as the State Executive meeting held on Friday, the saffron party hailed its anti-conversion bill and anti-cattle slaughter bill — both pet projects of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP’s ideological head.

Flex of VD Savarkar and SC Bose

The banner with a slogan eulogising Hindu Rashtra became a bone of contention between HIndutva organisations and Muslim outfit SDPI on 16 August.

Repeated evocation of VD Savarkar, including during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, attempts to denude Tipu Sultan’s legacy, the combative stance of the BJP on issues like hijab, halal and azaan, boycotting of Muslim businesses, repeated attacks on political rivals using Muslim-bashing as a tool are all simply attempts to appeal to the party’s core support base.

On the governance front too, Hindutva has taken centrestage. Other than the two controversial legislations, the BJP governments under Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai announced a slew of measures in tune with Hindutva appeasement.

Appealing to core voters

Crores of rupees in grants to Hindu religious mathas, budget announcement to free temples from the government’s administrative control, funds to develop the Anjanadri hills as part of the Ayodhya Ram Temple circuit, new schemes to adopt cows, free rein to moral policing — Bommai’s “action and reaction” statement —  alleged saffronisation of school text books are all meant to keep BJP’s core voters happy.

With last week’s announcement on enhancing reservation in jobs and educational institutions for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) communities, the government hopes to win over a section of the SC/ST votes.

“All of this, coupled with the charm of Narendra Modi and the finances to run an effective poll campaign, will make it very easy for BJP to win. Whatever little challenge we may face will be offset by the Congress’ old habit of sabotaging itself,” the BJP parliamentarian added, confident that the Congress’ internal strife over who will the chief ministerial candidate — KPCC President DK Shivakumar or Siddaramaiah — will eventually end up with the party shooting itself in the foot.