Bajrang Dal buries Congress.

Congress is ahead in Karnataka but Hanuman may trip them

Many more people predicting Congress victory over BJP; JDS could make thrilling entry

Saeed Naqvi | New Delhi | 5 May, 2023 | 11:00 AM

The BJP expectation is that, in the last lap of the campaign, Modi’s rhetorical talent plus Lord Hanuman will give them the tailwind to touch the finishing line.

Salman Khan as a bhakt of Bajrang Bali, restores a lost Pakistani girl to her parents virtually on the Line of Control. Kabir Khan, the imaginative director of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the film which brought the two countries together on an unbelievable scale, now has his role cut out for him in poll bound Karnataka.

State elections are just a few days away and Bajrang Bali has been introduced into active electioneering by the Congress whizz kid, Randeep Surjewala. He was taking a jibe at hate mongering by the Bajrang Dal. So, he said, the Congress would ban the Bajrang Dal, should it come to power in the state. He has a talent for blowing sky high such issues which can best be handled in undertones. Remember how, with the self confidence of a purohit, he declared Rahul Gandhi a “janeudhari” Brahmin, opening up a dubious caste debate.

No sooner had Surjewala mentioned Bajrang Dal than Prime Minister Modi, hovering on the state like an eagle (30 rallies and roadshows are billed for him), swooped on the “anti Hanuman tirade” whipped up by the Congress. “So, they want to imprison Lord Hanuman?” said he, grinding his teeth.

A journalist came running to my hotel room. “Look, the Congress has handed them an issue on which Modi will go to town.”

Every Hanuman temple in the state echoed to the sound of kirtans. Not to be left behind the Congress’s vokaliga candidate, D.K. Shivkumar raised the stakes even further. Should he become Chief Minister, he would build Hanuman Mandir in every district of Karnataka. For the formidable builders lobby this was honeyed music.

The BJP expectation is that, in the last lap of the campaign, Modi’s rhetorical talent plus Lord Hanuman will give them the tailwind to touch the finishing line. Seldom have I seen a major political party so completely dwarfed by a leader like Modi. There may be disgust with the BJP across classes. My taxi driver or that business executive smoking a Punch cigar had the same comment “Modi will win it for them.”

Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee had a natural charisma. M.G.R., Jayalalitha, N.T. Rama Rao’s charisma derived from a combination of factors: cinematic glamour plus linguistic regionalism. That Amitabh Bachchan’s charisma never took off in the realm of politics was for a simple reason: his undoubted cinematic glamour did not have linguistic regionalism to boost it.

Modi’s charisma has been choreographed by the media. Every mainstream channel, English or language newspaper is captive, to his persona. For a deeply religious country, Modi’s omnipresence recalls, “jidhar dekhta hoon, udhar tu hi tu hai” (Your glory permeates any direction I look.)

This would imply that the BJP will romp home. And yet, that is not the way it works. Modi is an advantage no other party has. But the BJP government in the state has been extracting 40% of all government contract payments from state contractors, and the contractors have revealed this unchallenged truth on live TV. The burden becomes too heavy even for Modi to carry through. And the 40% scandal is only one of the negatives attached to the BJP in this campaign.

One is familiar with the exodus of Congressmen to the BJP. But in Karnataka traffic is taking place in the reverse direction – notable leaders like Jagdish Shetter and Laxman Sarvadi have left the BJP for the Congress. This is a huge psychological setback.

All of this should give the Congress an advantage, even though observers suggest the party campaign suffered from an excessive focus on Modi and his misdemeanours. What the Congress would do for the people was not persuasively put across. Even so, there is a certain bounce in the Congressmen’s tread.

There is another fly in the Congress ointment. The party has two aspirants for the job of Chief Minister: Siddaramaiah, a lower caste Kuruba community, and D.K. Shivkumar, an agriculturalist Vokkaliga.

The assembly has 224 seats. Supposing the Congress tally is 80. Should the leadership confer the Chief Ministership on Siddaramaiah in anticipation of a coalition, why Shivkumar and his supporters would (if he has sufficient numbers) not be lured by a BJP in case the party is short of numbers. Such are the speculations in the ranks of nervous BJP sympathizers. BJP spokesman, S. Prakash spoke to me with the brazenness of someone determined to create an impression of super self confidence: “We are ruthless; ofcourse we shall splurge money to win over candidates. We have more money than all the other parties.” Such speech does not a victor make. To the contrary it betrays weakness.

There are figures galore, and any number of combinations, all pointing to a fierce election. A notable fact is this: there are many more people predicting a Congress victory than a BJP one. Yes, the third party the JDS could make for a thrilling entry should numbers encourage lengthy coalition parleys.

To Surjewala goes the authorship of the controversial statement: we shall ban the Bajrang Dal. No sooner did the story break than Shivkumar charged off to the Hanuman temple, with cameramen in tow to commit him to posterity as a Bhakt. He announced that the Congress will create an Anjanadri Development Board to develop the birthplace of Lord Hanuman on the hills of Koppal in Karnataka.

The person who must be feeling left out of the excessive Hanuman Bhakti must be AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal who first started the tradition of reciting Hanuman Chalisa at the drop of a hat.

The credit must go to the BJP for having hollowed out almost all political parties of their secular pretensions. Surjewala’s anti Bajrang Dal projection was aimed at luring Muslim votes away from the JDS which, if inflated, might play the monkey between quarrelling cats. No sooner had Surjewala shot the bolt, than the Congress was distancing itself from the controversial statement. Atleast since Indira Gandhi’s 1983 Jammu election, the Congress has learnt the lesson of shepherding Hindu votes with care and ignoring the Muslim votes proportionately.