Karnataka elections: BJP asks Congress to debate local issues

Bengaluru: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday tried to dilute Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s relentless attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2018 Karnataka assembly elections, by asking the party to discuss and debate issues related to the state.

“Elections are held in Karnataka for Karnataka. What is the performance of state government is the question,” said P.Muralidhar Rao, general secretary of the BJP, in Bengaluru on Sunday.

The BJP statement comes as Gandhi, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and the Congress have continued their attack on Modi and Amit Shah, and have criticized central policies as well as the recent $1.8 billion scandal involving diamantaire Nirav Modi, among other issues.

Gandhi, who is presently touring the Mumbai-Karnataka region of the state, has been using the election platform to attack the BJP central leadership on issues like demonetisation and goods and services tax (GST).

The strategy to bring local issues to the fore is also part of BJP’s plan to focus on the shortcomings of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in the state which the former has branded as corrupt, “anti-Hindu” and lawless.

The Karnataka election is expected to become a battlefield for national leaders, as it comes ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls, where the BJP will defend its term in office since 2014.

The Congress, which has so far seen as setting the agenda for the elections in Karnataka, has been using region-specific issues to highlight its own achievements and discredit the central and state leadership of the BJP.

Rao said that the Congress should limit itself to issues of the state and not use “diversionary” tactics for its “hit-and-run” politics. Rao said Shah, who is also in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region of the state since Saturday, is meeting with representatives of various sections of he society, including farmers, backward class leaders, spiritual heads as well as booth-level workers as part of mobilisation for the elections.

Rao said the BJP has offered to resolve all issues faced by sugarcane farmers—one of the most powerful lobby groups—“as soon as the party is voted to power”.

A. Narayana, political analyst and professor for public policy at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, said 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.

Gandhi, who has been on tour in Karnataka since Saturday—his second of four scheduled visits before mid-March when campaigning for the 2018 assembly elections is likely to move up a gear—has continued his Gujarat campaigning style of visiting religious places, offering prayers and making unscheduled stops to meet locals.

The Congress is trying to corner the BJP and its missteps on the Mahadayi (also known as Mandovi) river water dispute, that caters to the Mumbai-Karnataka region, along with Goa and Maharashtra. The Congress is also trying to capitalise on the BJP’s silence on the renewed demand for a separate religion status for Lingayats, a long-pending demand that has divided the dominant community, in Mumbai-Karnataka, which is home to some of the biggest spiritual centres of the community including the birthplace of 12th century social reformer Basavanna.

North Karnataka, which couldn’t be more different from the south, includes part of the Bombay Presidency as well as regions that were earlier part of erstwhile Hyderabad state which later acceded to Karnataka. Analysts said that without the support of north Karnataka, no party has been able to form the government in Karnataka.

The four districts of Mumbai-Karnataka—Belagavi, Bagalkot, Vijayapura and Dharwad—have a total of 40 seats, of which the Congress has 23 and the BJP 12.livemint