Karnataka LS polls 2024: Modi-Shah keep up the momentum; Rahul to enter contest in slog overs

Many wonder if Rahul Gandhi’s delayed entry into the electoral battlefield in Karnataka is a strategic move to let the local satraps set the narratives around local issues.
Representative Image
Representative Image

Determined to retain a big chunk of seats the party had won in the last Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s top leadership is firing on all cylinders. In stark contrast, Congress’ star campaigner Rahul Gandhi is yet to enter the electoral battlefield in Karnataka, undoubtedly the most important state for the Grand Old Party, which is struggling in the Hindi heartland.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be back in Karnataka on Sunday. In his third visit to the state since March 16 — when the elections were announced — the PM will address a rally in Mysuru and take part in a roadshow in Mangaluru.

In a strategic move, the PM started his electioneering in the state from AICC chief Mallikarjun Kharge’s home district Kalaburgi. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, too, had held a series of meetings, including a BJP-JDS coordination meeting in Bengaluru to iron out differences between the coalition partners. Besides, he has taken part in a roadshow in Bengaluru Rural constituency to push the BJP-JDS campaign on state Congress president DK Shivakumar’s home turf.

The BJP central leadership also seems to be closely monitoring the developments in all 28 LS seats as its national general secretary in-charge of Karnataka elections Radha Mohan Das Agrawal has been camping in Bengaluru for nearly two months.

The Congress on its part seems to be largely depending on the state leaders, especially the proven combination of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, to take on the Modi-Shah bandwagon to continue the party’s winning streak. Except for Kharge’s occasional visits to Karnataka, mostly Bengaluru and Kalaburagi, the central leadership does not seem to be involved much in the campaigning in the state.

Compared to his hectic campaigning in the 2023 assembly polls and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi’s absence from the state’s political scene this time is conspicuous. His first rally in the state is likely to be in Kolar and Mandya on April 17, just nine days before the high-profile seats in the Old Mysuru region where Congress is facing a stiff fight from the BJP-JDS combine, will go to the polls on April 26.

Many wonder if Rahul Gandhi’s delayed entry into the electoral battlefield in Karnataka is a strategic move to let the local satraps set the narratives around local issues. Or, is he too busy focusing on the campaign in North India where the party is not that strong? But, that kind of effort to regain lost ground in UP or other North Indian states is hardly evident in the Congress camp. In contrast, the BJP is making every effort to make inroads into Tamil Nadu, a state that hitherto remained beyond its reach.

In Karnataka, Congress seems to be working on a nuanced strategy to focus mostly on its five guarantees, State-Centre issues like alleged injustice meted out to Karnataka in tax devolution and drought relief, price rise and unemployment, to drive home its point to the voters. For now, it has stayed away from the BJP’s narrative of turning the elections into a leadership contest: Modi Vs Who? That’s a no-win situation for Congress or I.N.D.I.A bloc, which does not have a prime ministerial face.

While the party seems to be working on a carefully crafted strategy in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi’s no-holds-barred attack could deviate the focus from the state issues. To a very limited extent, it may even run the risk of projecting the election as a Modi Vs Rahul contest. Also, none of the Congress’ central leaders can aggressively speak about the issue of tax devolution as the BJP could use it against Congress in north Indian states.

State Congress Communications Wing chief Ramesh Babu, however, insists that Rahul Gandhi is not late in coming to Karnataka as there is a lot of time available for the campaign since the first phase of polling in the state is on April 26 and the second on May 7. According to Ramesh Babu, apart from Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, Mallikarjun Kharge, I.N.D.I.A bloc leaders Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav, and others will also campaign in Karnataka.

In any case, the onerous task of winning Karnataka yet again rests with Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar combo. The challenge is to improve the party’s performance substantially by getting double-digits and not just do well in comparison to its worst-ever show of winning just one out of 28 seats in Karnataka in the last Lok Sabha polls. Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar also seem to have been bogged down in their home turfs, at least till the first phase of elections in Karnataka is over on April 26.

In the next few days, a lot depends on the state Congress leaders’ ability to stay focused on the State Government’s guarantees and issues concerning Karnataka. That is not an easy task given Congress central leaders’ propensity to go off at a tangent and get into Modi-bashing, which could prove counter-productive.

Ramu Patil

Assistant Resident Editor


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