Karnataka election worries seem to be playing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mind more than the country's foreign policy. Perhaps for this reason, during his ongoing tour to the United Kingdom, he is also campaigning for the Karnataka assembly elections. PM Modi had unveiled a statue of Lingayat Saint Basaveshwara during his tour of the UK in 2015, and his program in London on Wednesday included prayers at the statue, situated on the river Thames. All this is well and good as today is Basava Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the saint.
However, in a fit of over eagerness to send a message to Lingayat voters, a news agency reported that Prime Minister Modi had said “It is a matter of happiness for me that I will get to interact with people here on the birth anniversary of Lord Basaveshwara” to British Prime Minister Theresa May. Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister May wears a somewhat baffled expression in the accompanying photo.
The PM is betraying BJP’s nerves over retaining its Lingayat bastion in Karnataka, after a section of the community expressed displeasure at the BJP not making its stand clear on its demand for separate religious minority status, a demand accepted and recommended by Congress Chief Minister of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah. The Lingayat population in Karnataka stands at around 17% and Lingayat voters are considered influential in nearly 100 assembly seats of 224 in Karnataka. In the present assembly, 52 out of 224 legislators are Lingayats. The community also punches above its weight in numbers when it comes to influencing the political discourse. It is feared by party managers that the slightest split in Lingayat votes, which have traditionally gone to BJP, will lead to losses in several seats.
TheQuint, meanwhile, reported on Wednesday that BJP President Amit Shah has now shifted base from Delhi to state capital Bengaluru, renting a big bungalow in Fairfield Layout, to closely monitor the elections. Shah has also called in his trusted generals Union Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Piyush Goyal, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, Rajya Sabha MP Bhupendra Yadav, Maharashtra MLA Ashish Shelar, and former Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay, all non-Karnataka politicians, to help with the campaign. However organisational charge, said TheQuint, "has been given to Karnataka’s RSS strongmen BL Santosh and Arun Kumar".
Analysts say the unusual decision by the BJP President to shift base to the southern state till the elections shows that BJP’s election campaign so far is not proceeding to Shah’s satisfaction. Shah’s calling upon his most trusted lieutenants from outside Karnataka also shows he has little faith in the party’s state unit, lead by chief ministerial face BS Yeddyurappa.
Karnataka votes on May 12. Results will be announced on May 15.