Karnataka 2018

Karnataka Assemly elections 2018: Siddaramaiah’s playbook has nationwide application

Siddaramaiah’s roadshow in Badami when he filed his nomination.  

The Assembly election campaign in Karnataka appears to lack an overarching, dominant theme or issue. The BJP’s broad Hindutva plank is expected to come up against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s carefully crafted AHINDA (minorities, Dalits and backward communities) coalition in various parts of the State. The Janata Dal(S), meanwhile, hopes to play kingmaker.

A closer look at the narrative wars in these polls will show, however, that Mr. Siddaramaiah has just as carefully crafted a three-tier plank of identity politics of which AHINDA is just one tier.

The top tier is the “BJP versus the rest” formulation, first articulated as a north vs south binary within the context of the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission with four southern States banding together in protest. That tier has now been expanded to other regions in eastern India, as a larger “cultural” battle, to box the BJP as a north-centric party.

Naidu’s move

The biggest sign of this coming together has been an unprecedented direct appeal by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to Telugu-speaking voters in Karnataka to defeat the BJP (astonishing considering the TDP’s anti-Congress politics) and his move to hold a meeting of the Finance Ministers of 11 States in Amaravati on May 7, over the terms of references of the finance panel.

Mr. Naidu’s exit from the NDA helps tie this issue neatly with the aggrieved feelings of the State on the issue of Special Category Status (SCS). West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka (not confirmed due to polls), Odisha, Punjab, Puducherry, and Mizoram are expected to attend the meeting.

Regional sentiments

The second tier is of sub-regional nationalism — a separate flag for Karnataka and the use of the local language, Kannada, in public spaces. This is possibly the first such advocacy by the Congress, usually seen as an omnibus “national party”. The third level is AHINDA as a solid chunk of support for the Congress.

Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka Agriculture Minister and candidate from Byatarayanapura, agrees partially with the formulation.

“There is definitely an attempt by the BJP to impose a homogenous cultural narrative on the country. This imposition is inorganic and goes against the southern grain which has an astonishing diversity. The BJP is not into trying to understand this diversity. They have a certain mindset and wants the rest of the country to follow,” he said.

Leaders of the Congress’s Andhra Pradesh unit, including former Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju, have reached out to Telugu voters in Mahadevpura, Bommanahalli, K.R. Pura, Hebbal, Bangalore South, Byatarayanapura and C.V. Raman Nagar.

The BJP dismisses these attempts at boxing it into a “north Indian” party mould.

“The growth of the BJP in Bengaluru owes a lot to Telugu-speaking leaders like P.C. Mohan and Katta Subramaniam Naidu. It is also rather rich on the part of the Congress to claim to be a representative of the south, when it has hardly a presence in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana,” BJP general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao said.

As the campaign enters its final stretch, this structure of identity politics may have implications for more than just Karnataka.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 3:45:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/karnataka-2018/karnataka-assemly-elections-2018-siddaramaiahs-playbook-has-nationwide-application/article23787718.ece

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