Karnataka polls: PM Modi’s bloopers, loss of composure show his nerves

With just three days of campaigning to go, the BJP’s star candidate does not seem to be enthusing the electorate against a popular incumbent chief minister

Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Zafar Agha

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is betraying signs of nervousness on the Karnataka campaign trail. The BJP’s star vote catcher does not seem to be sure what may work for his party on D-Day, May 12. If he is ranting about ‘dynasty’ one day, he rants about ‘corruption’ another day and non-existent ‘insults’ to artists on the third day. If Modi reserves highest praises and regards for former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) chief HD Deve Gowda on one day, he labels Gowda a Congress stooge the next day.

The BJP election campaign in Karnataka has been facing trouble right from the very start. BJP President and party strategist Amit Shah first tried to generate a backlash from non-Lingayat groups, terming Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s move to accord minority status to the Lingayat community as an ‘’attempt to divide Hindus’’. However the move does not seem to have had the expected impact, as the BJP has all but dropped the issue as the poll campaign moves into the final lap.

A nervous Shah changed gears, camped in a flat in Bengaluru, brought in his closest advisors from outside the state, sidelined the local Karnakata BJP leaders and on a nudge from RSS, thrust Hindutva icon and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath into the Karnataka poll turf.

Adityanath has been hopping from one math to the other but getting a tepid response from South Indian priests who, unlike him, have maintained a big distance from active politics. Yogi’s aggressive Hindi was never likely to find favour with the more soft-spoken Kannadigas.

Thus the BJP in Karnataka finally pinned all its hopes on Narendra Modi, known for his oratorial magic and ability to lift sinking poll campaigns with his ability to mesmerise voters with tempting promises, mixed with healthy doses of Hindutva appeal. But by the time Modi arrived, the BJP campaign had already suffered serious blows. The BJP move to deny its chief ministerial candidate Yedurappa’s son the party’s nomination for contesting election terribly annoyed Yeddy’s supporters, as well as his Lingayat base. The BJP has been beset with infighting between the Yeddy camp and the Ananth Kumar camp ever since.

Secondly, the BJP’s late move to pitch in the much-maligned Reddy brothers of Ballari, sent the signal that, despite Modi’s litanies, the BJP is not averse to corruption. But the compulsion of depending on the Reddy’s turned into a liability, as a recent survey found that more Karnataka voters think the BJP is corrupt, than the Congress.

Narendra Modi has entered an already difficult situation for BJP. His principal strategist Amit Shah’s craft of dividing his rivals’ base and preparing ground for Modi to consolidate it into a solid Hindu vote, has failed to work. Modi, much to his chagrin, has been left to lift the BJP in Karnataka on his shoulders alone

Narendra Modi, like 2014, devoted his first campaign day in Karnataka entirely to taunting the Congress Party for being a dynastic party. Congress President Rahul Gandhi, free of the incumbency baggage that weighs down Modi, had already toured the state extensively. BJP was hoping that the Congress President had peaked early, making Rahul an easy prey by the time Modi arrived.

Much to Modi’s surprise, his frontal attack on dynastic rule did not work. So, he changed course the next day when he found that Rahul’s soft and cultured demeanour was getting a more positive response from Kannadigas instead of Modi’s much-cultivated angry man image.

A desperate Modi is now crying hoarse, calling Congress names such “corruption tank” and the “PPP (Punjab, Puducherry and Parivar) party”. He lost his composure in Hubbali and openly threatened the top leadership of the Congress party. He frankly made a fool of himself while attempting to claim that Congress leaders in the past insulted two sons of the Kodagu region, Field Marshall Cariappa and General Thimayya—when the media mercilessly exposed his falsehoods and distortions of indisputable historical facts about the careers of the two great military men. On the campaign trail today, as earlier, he is now desperately trying to polarise voters over an imaginary, non-existent insult by Congress to an artist who made the famous angry Hanuman image.

While Modi sounds ever more shrill, angry and desperate, Amit Shah has retreated a bit into the background, putting out photos of supposedly well-attended rallies and road shows, all of which are taken from eye-level. Perhaps BJP is now pinning its hopes on proxies such as HD Kumaraswamy, Asaduddin Owaisi, the All India Mahila Empowerment Party, and its great money power that it hopes will get it past the finishing line.

But with just three days of campaigning to go, the BJP and its star candidate does not seem to be enthusing the electorate against a popular incumbent chief minister.

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