Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally ahead of the Karnataka state assembly elections in Bengaluru. Photograph:( Reuters )
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reset the tone in the middle of Bharatiya Janata Party's election campaign in Karnataka. Unlike Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat where the party's campaign was centered around Pakistan, national security and cemetery, his speech on Thursday morning was focused on the issues of developmental work done by his government. The message was about number and data crunching. His speech was a comparison between his work of four years and that of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for the same period in context of Karnataka.
Why did he do so? For the simple reason that BJP is finding it difficult to handle Siddaramaiah on his own pitch. His party the Congress, which is ruling Karnataka, has built its campaign around social sector schemes for poor and backward castes, sense of regional pride centred around flag, language and injustice, and acknowledgement of Lingayats as separate religion. The Lingayat issue has become a thorn and for this reason PM Modi, without going into the detail, accused Congress of caste hunting in every election.
Siddaramaiah's campaign also revolves around his personality. It exudes the confidence of a strong regional leader who has the capacity to take on the might of Modi. Similar narrative was successfully milked by Modi himself when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. The water of Narmada was turned into an issue of injustice. Similarly, Siddaramaiah has turned the issue of funds for the agricultural sector into sense of injustice to the state. Modi too represented regional pride when he was the chief minister so all the social development data campaign of the Congress failed repeatedly.
Modi that way has taken a risk. In 2012, when Congress built a campaign on economic index, it failed in front of 'Gujarati asmita' which Modi evoked. But from electoral perspective, BJP in Karnataka has been left with no choice.
Even Yedyurrapa has failed to campaign like a regional stalwart. The message in the electorate is that BJP president Amit Shah is calling all the shots unlike Siddaramaiah who has successfully cultivated the image of a leader who is impervious to the machinations of the Delhi-based leaders. The message is that Siddaramaiah gets his way with Congress leadership. Though Yedyrappa has been given prominence in posters with Modi and Shah, it has not achieved that standing in people's eyes. It is for this reason that the BJP is trying to shift goal posts to development and work done by the Centre. Though Modi in his speech said that he is a proud Kannadiga, it will take more than that for the BJP to turn this electoral battle around.
Till now, BJP has only been responding to the Congress's campaign. Barring Bengaluru civic issues, its campaign has really not created a buzz. If they want to wrest Karnataka, the BJP will have to strike an emotional chord with voters as to why they should be voted back as elections are purely anchored around emotive issues like identity, pride and justice.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)