Congress seen setting agenda for Karnataka elections 2018

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Bengaluru: At a political rally in Bengaluru on 4 February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the choicest of epithets, including “ease of murder” and “10% commission government”, to describe the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka.

Both allegations—the first refers to communal incidents in coastal Karnataka and the second to claims the Congress runs a corrupt regime—were played up by the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The hope was that they would stick in the voter’s mind space ahead of Karnataka elections scheduled for later this year.

But the allegations, among scores of others in recent months, have failed to stick as BJP has failed to back them with evidence, according to analysts.

If anything, it is the Congress, led by its president Rahul Gandhi, that has succeeded in setting the agenda, leaving the BJP to clarify its stand on contentious issues and allegations levelled against it, said Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at Karnatak University, Dharwad.

“The BJP didn’t speak all these days and now doesn’t know what to speak,” he said of the party’s missteps on contentious issues like the separate religion status demand of Lingayats as well as the Mahadayi river water dispute.

The BJP is banking mainly on Modi’s three-and-a-half year rule at the centre to woo voters while the Congress is talking up its work and policies in Karnataka in the last five years.

Gandhi, who plans to tour all four divisions of the state before mid-March, will be in the Mumbai-Karnataka region for three days starting 24 February. During his earlier visit to the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, he and Siddaramaiah took the stage to highlight successful programmes of the Congress government including implementation of Article 371(J) that accords special status to the region.

The national leadership of the BJP has so far held day-long rallies in Bengaluru, Mysuru and coastal Karnataka. Gandhi has carried out 3-4 days of continuous rallies.

A. Narayana, political analyst and professor for public policy at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, says that the Congress has been raising region-specific issues, while the BJP is using topics like Hindutva and corruption.

Congress leaders have also been visiting temples and using the party’s own version of Hindutva to counter the BJP.

B.S. Yeddyurappa, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for 2018, has carried out an 84-day Parivarthana Yatra across all 224 constituencies in the state, even as Siddaramaiah has visited almost as many constituencies to announce new developmental works and schemes before the election code of conduct comes into force.

Yeddyurappa, however, was at the receiving end after he tried to play the “water card” when he claimed to have resolved the four-decade-old Mahadayi (also known as Mandovi) river dispute—on the basis of a letter written to him by Manohar Parrikar, the Goa chief minister.

His confidence also stemmed from the fact that the two other stakeholders—Goa and Maharashtra—are BJP-ruled states.

Both BJP and Congress, who have no pre-poll alliances, are confident of crossing the majority mark on their own.

Narayana points out that if the BJP can find evidence of corruption against Siddaramaiah, it could tip the scales in its favour, but so far it has only been able to level allegations.

The Congress, he says, cannot oversell social justice and AHINDA (an acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) as it would end up offending dominant castes like Lingayats and Vokkaligas. He also says that concepts like AHINDA—the main support base of Siddaramaiah—have their limitations in urban constituencies as well as coastal Karnataka.livemint