Battle for 2019 comes alive as heat is on for voting for Karnataka Legislature

Already seen as a litmus test for the BJP and Congress and also as an indicator of the popularity of the Narendra Modi government, Karnataka Assembly polls is all set to pass verdict on Prime Minister’s ‘mass appeal’ and Congress adopting a mixed political strategy of giving space to the state leader Siddaramaiah but keeping Rahul Gandhi in limelight.

Admittedly the BJP had unleashed its election strategy on defensive mode and had to depend on the popular Lingayat face B S Yeddyurappa – notwithstanding the old corruption charges against him. But as the electioneering entered the crucial stage, PM Modi’s mass appeal seemed to make all the difference in electoral politics.

For his part, in this year’s Karnataka polls, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has tried to present himself as a ‘challenger’ to Prime Minister and said “now (he has) learnt to deal with the Prime Minister”.

At a symposium on May 8, when a member of the audience asked him if he could be next prime minister, Mr Gandhi responded: “Well, that depends on how well Congress does. I mean, if Congress is the biggest party, then yeah.”

Prime Minister Modi – albeit deliberately – entered the election stage late and his party did well to package and present his ‘winning’ image of a ‘decisive and performing leader’ – committed to upholding traditional Kannadiga culture and who also struggles hard to fight corruption and for India’s development.

In number of places, Mr Modi sought to attack Congress leaders including Pt Jawaharlal Nehru of showing disrespect to Karnataka’s ‘sons of the soil’ and two top military officers Gen K S Thimayya and Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa.

He also said while Congress celebrated Tipu Jayanti, but due respect were not paid to Lord Basaveshwara.
Echoing this line of attack, BJP chief Amit Shah said: “The people of Karnataka understands this well. There has been a politics of appeasement (of Muslims) by the Congress. The Congress tried its old vote bank consolidation yet again and today the party stands exposed before the people”.

In fact, from BJP’s point of view – Amit Shah’s election management skills came into focus – probably first time after UP – as he himself took charge of even minute things and had camped himself here by renting a house at city’s Fairlady Layout locality.
Mr Shah also campaigned intensely participating in road shows and addressing rallies in front of massive crowds.
On the last of day of campaign, Mr Shah joined a party road show at Badami, the second assembly constituency of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

“The 2018 Karnataka campaign strategy also saw Amit Shah as a crowd puller. This can have significant impact for BJP’s internal politics as even crowd puller Yogi Adityanath only addressed fewer rallies as compared to Tripura,” says a BJP insider on the condition of anonymity.

The party is so far not complaining as Mr Shah’s road shows and gatherings attracted huge gathering in places like Badami, Sarvagnanagar and Shivajinagar (Bengaluru), Hebbuur Hobli, Tumkur and Hungund.

The Congress strategy was also well organised as the party did not fail to ‘mock’ or take pot shots at Prime Minister’s speeches. The party also made it clear while Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has remained the ‘face’ of the party in the state, the party chief Rahul Gandhi has been the ultimate inspiration and the boss.

“There has been no conflict between projecting Siddaramaiah as the Chief Ministerial face and Rahul Gandhi being the party president,” Congress general secretary K C Venugopal told UNI.

On Siddaramaiah allegedly ‘flexing muscles’ and often trying to push his point of view – especially in his contesting from Badami in addition to his home segment Chamundeshwari, Mr Venugopal said: “You cannot change a man or his body language, but when it comes to Rahul Gandhi, Chief Minister knew his position and how to go about it”.

The Congress has certainly remained bullish about the possibility of their victory. But is also repeatedly accused Prime Minister Modi of “lying and twisting historical facts” during the election campaign to put Congress leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru in a poor light.

“The kind of things he (Modi) has been saying in the election campaign has embarrassed India globally,” Congress leader Anand Sharma told media. Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala went onto describe Mr Modi as “jhuton ka sardar (a king of lies)”.

Even former Manmohan Singh Singh attacked Mr Modi for his ‘remarks’ and also said Prime Minister’s policy on demonitisaton, GST and increase in prices of petrol and diesel has pushed the country’s economy to slow down.
In her attempts to counter Mr Modi’s blitzkrieg campaign, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi too addressed a rally at Lingayat hub Vijayapura.

For his part, in this year’s Karnataka polls, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has tried to present himself as a ‘challenger’ to Prime Minister and said “now (he has) learnt to deal with the Prime Minister”.

Congress leader Mr Venugopal also claimed that the effective and successful road map prepared by the Congress for Karnataka polls ensured that leaders at all levels were involved.

“The candidate selection process itself is a new method we adopted in Karnataka. I used to have regular weekly one-on-one meeting with Rahulji in addition to daily interaction over phone. This time for selection of candidates we involved maximum number of people. This was something new in the Congress”, said Mr Venugopal.

A senior Congressman in his own right, Mr Venugopal also said, “Earlier selection of candidates in the Congress party used to be done in a more secretive manner and decision making process was mainly confined to three-four people including the Chief Minister and AICC general secretary. But this time people from districts and all AICC secretaries were all involved in the entire process”.

Finally, the stage is set for voting on Saturday as the Karnataka mandate will be also a crystal clear indication of an aggressive quest for power for the 2019 general election.

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