Hindutva, not development or unemployment, is becoming a gamechanger in upcoming polls
Hindutva has moved on to the political centrestage, with principal political formations veering round to its narrative. The trend started in Gujarat where, to counter the BJP, Rahul Gandhi was seen temple-hopping and flaunting around that he is janaeu-dhari Hindu. As luck should have it, the Congress won in all the seats where Rahul Gandhi had visited local temples. In the coming elections, the trend is set to increase, with the secular parties all set to shed their pro-minority bias and emerge as the unabashed proponents of Hindutva ideology.
The BJP has reasons to worry over this trend, which threatens to undermine its Hindutva votebank, nurtured over decades of efforts put in by the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh Parivar owes it to Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani, who waged the unpopular crusade for wider acceptance of Hindutva ideology. Now, its bitterest opponents are turning into its staunch votaries.
The latest to jump on to the bandwagon is Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Recently she organised the Brahmin Sammelan and distributed the Bhagavad-Gita in Birbhum district. Not long ago, when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj voiced the demand to declare Bhagavad-Gita as the National Scripture, many eyebrows had gone up. Now, Mamata Banerjee, who prided herself as a Messiah of Secularism, did not take much time to make a U-turn, given the trend towards the far right in the political discourse.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who tried building a rainbow caste coalition in Gujarat, had to abandon it half-way, to embrace the Hindutva symbolism. The caste arithmetic seems to be more tilted in favour of the Congress in Karnataka, more than in Gujarat, but the ruling party is in no position to counter the polarization triggered by the BJP. That may just prove to be a gamechanger in the Karnataka Assembly elections onwards, perhaps in all the elections.
2018 will witness four crucial contests between the Congress and the BJP, which may well set the tone for the General Election in 2019. While in Karnataka, the Congress-ruled State, Assembly polls are due in April-May, in three other States that are BJP-ruled – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – polls are due later this year.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who donned the mantle of party president during the fag-end of Gujarat Assembly polls, will face his first major electoral test this year. Karnataka is the first of the four States, where the Congress clashes with the BJP in a direct contest during 2018.
In all these four State Assembly elections, it will be a clash between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has demonstrated his electoral invincibility, and Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who is struggling hard to win some significant State, which may help the party to go for the Lok Sabha poll in 2019 with some degree of self-confidence. Rahul Gandhi is yet to deliver a major electoral victory to the Congress.
Soon after she donned the mantle of Congress President in March 1998, Sonia Gandhi brought the party to power in States like Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which helped in instantly rallying the party behind her; besides in bringing the Congress back to power at the Centre in 2004. Twenty years down the line, in 2018, Congress President Rahul Gandhi faces a similar challenge. Unless and until he delivers a major electoral victory to the Congress in these upcoming Assembly polls, he will find it difficult to confidently lead the party in the General Election in 2019.
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Karnataka is a key electoral contest, both for the BJP and the Congress. While the BJP seeks to stage a comeback in the important Southern State, where it had ruled earlier in 2008-2013, the Congress seeks to retain the State with economic and political clout, where it is already in power. Though the Congress did manage to win Punjab Assembly elections, victory in Karnataka will be a big morale-booster for the moribund party.
Following the defeat in Gujarat Assembly elections, the Congress is working hard to chalk out a winning strategy for the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, even as the BJP is sharpening its Hindutva offensive. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has already visited the State, firing the imagination of the party cadres in the State.
Karnataka is the only Southern State, which has been ruled in the past by the BJP that gives it hope of returning to power in the upcoming polls. The party has set an ambitious target of winning 150 seats in the 224-member Karnataka Assembly. The BJP also sees Karnataka as the Gateway to South India, with the Saffron Party now setting its sights on Kerala, as well.
BJP President Amit Shah, in a rally in Chitradurga, declared the Congress is anti-Hindu party, while the Congress is struggling hard to hit upon an electoral strategy that can effectively neutralise Hindutva.
Tone for the poll battle has been set by the Saffron Brigade. It is Tipu Sultan Jayanti versus Hanuman Jayanti, daring Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to ban beef if he is really Hindu and a host of such other issues, making Hindutva the central poll issue.
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The Congress is on the defensive. Both State Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and State Urban Development Minister D K Shiva Kumar, who played a prominent role in hosting the Gujarat Congress MLAs in the run up to the Rajya Sabha polls, where Ahmed Patel was a candidate, swear by Hinduism. Both Siddaramaiah and D K Shiva Kumar claim that BJP has no monopoly Hinduism and that are as much Hindu, as anyone else.
Siddaramaiah has crafted a cautious strategy to take on the Hindutva forces. With himself being a Kuruba (Shepherd), Siddaramaiah has drawn up a rainbow coalition of different castes like OBCs and Dalits, besides Minorities. Choosing to soft-pedal the issue of secularism for fear of losing the support of the Hindus, he has declared that he is a Hindu and he is Sidda-Rama and not one belonging to some other religion. Clearly he is steering clear from minority appeasement politics, which gives an edge to the BJP.
Siddaramaiah ordered that the portrait of Basavanna, who is the patron-saint of Lingayats, should be put up in all Government offices in Karnataka, in a bid to make inroads into Lingayat votebank of the BJP. That may not prove to be an easy task, as Lingayats, with sizeable presence in Karnataka, largely vote for the BJP and are loyal to B S Yeddyurappa.
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Not willing to take any chance on any front, a desperate Siddaramaiah did not miss out even on invoking the legendary Indira Gandhi, in the run up to the crucial Karnataka Assembly elections. Forty years ago in 1978, when Indira Gandhi was out of power and in political wilderness, she managed to garner support in Karnataka. The Congress was wiped out across North India in 1977, but within months after the Congress-I was formed on January 2, 1978, it was in Karnataka and in the then Undivided Andhra Pradesh that the Congress stormed to power. Later in 1978, Indira Gandhi went on to get elected to Lok Sabha, through Chickmagalur by-election.
That was the magic of Indira Gandhi with the people, especially the poor and the downtrodden. In order to reconnect with the poor, Siddaramaiah launched Indira Canteens in the Indira Gandhi Centenary Year, offering breakfast at Rs 5, besides lunch and dinner at Rs 10, each.
For the BJP, its strong point is the vast network of the Sangh Parivar in the State. Besides, in Karnataka, the BJP has been in power from 2008-2013, with B S Yeddyurappa, D V Sadananda Gowda and Jagdish Shettar serving as State Chief Ministers. Presently, the BJP is the principal Opposition party in the State Assembly, pushing Janata Dal (Secular) of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda to the margins.
The BJP, which is led by the invincible Duo, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, is upbeat. The party is banking on the image of Prime Minister Modi to deliver yet another electoral victory to the saffron party in the Southern State of Karnataka. However, the Congress too, is confident with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah assuring the Congress President that they will not allow the BJP to isolate people on the Hindutva issue. The more Amit Shah makes trip to Karnataka, the more it stands to lose and get exposed. The battle has just begun on how to counter Hindutva vote plank of the BJP.
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