The political significance of PM's five-hour dash to Bengaluru
PM Modi garlanded three statues during his recent visit to Bengaluru. Ahead of polls in Karnataka in May 2023, these held particular significance...
Published: 16th November 2022 09:51 PM | Last Updated: 16th November 2022 09:51 PM | A+A A-
Symbolism does play an important role in politics, especially so in the run-up to elections.
Trust the Bharatiya Janata Party to leave no stone unturned to make full use of this symbolism. We have seen how seriously BJP fights every election, especially since 2014. The party gave a slide show of its seriousness when Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a whirlwind visit to Bengaluru on November 11. True, it was an official visit but the political significance of the five-hour dash was not lost on any observer. Karnataka goes to polls in May 2023.
Modi did participate in development-oriented events. They included flagging off of two trains: one, south India's first Vande Bharat Express, and two, the Bharat Gaurav train to religious places like Varanasi. The other big event was inauguration of the swanky Terminal 2 of the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA).
While these two functions did attract attention, what stood out even further were those events which had traction politically.
Like most states in the country, caste plays an important role in elections in Karnataka, and BJP, as with all parties, did play on the caste factor – the party got Modi to unveil the statue of Nadaprabhu Kempe Gowda, founder of Bengaluru, and garland statues of poet-saint Kanakadasa, and sage Valmiki.
So, why was this significant?
Kempe Gowda is seen as an icon of the Vokkaliga community, while Kanakadasa is of the Kuruba (sheperd) community and Valmiki of the Nayaka caste.
By unveiling the massive statue of Kempe Gowda, the BJP has undoubtedly sent out a message that it wants to cultivate the powerful Vokkaliga caste, seen as the main support base of the Janata Dal(Secular). At the well-attended function, which culminated in Modi's Bengaluru visit, Vokkaliga seer Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji of Adichunchanagiri Math was all praise for Modi and even called him as 'Modern Kempe Gowda'. Modi, in return, profusely thanked the seer. The 108-foot tall 'statue of prosperity' that cost the state government Rs 84 crore, will shortly be the main attraction for the people visiting the heritage theme park – to be completed shortly - in an area covering 23 acres near the KIA.
Interestingly, Modi's rally happened at Devanahalli, which is part of the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha constituency, a stronghold of the Vokkaligas. DK Suresh, brother of KPCC president DK Shivakumar, a key Vokkaliga face, has won three successive elections to the Lok Sabha from this seat since 2013. The BJP also got former Chief Minister SM Krishna, a Vokkaliga, to attend the PM's function.
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The BJP government's installing of the statue, getting Modi to launch it, the seer praising the PM and the well-attended rally must have riled the Congress and JD(S). As expected, they were quick to dismiss the importance of the event. While JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy said statues don't bring votes, Shivakumar asked why government funds were used for the statue.
The garlanding of other statues made it clear that BJP eyed other communities too.
While Kanakadasa is respected by all communities, his poems, many of which carry theme of social reforms and communal harmony, are revered in particular by the Kuruba community. The community has a presence in nearly every assembly constituency and Congress strongman Siddaramaiah is the tallest leader of the community. The BJP is aiming to wean away a part of the Kuruba votes in the coming elections. Incidentally, Modi's visit and garlanding happened on Kanakadasa jayanthi.
The next statue to be garlanded was of Valmiki, sage poet and author of Ramayana. The tribal Nayaka community revere him as their own and that's where the political significance of the garlanding lies.
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Transport and Tribal Welfare Minister Sriramulu, who hails from the Nayaka community, was a prominent presence along with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai when Modi paid tributes to these historical figures. Over the last few decades, the Nayaka votes have been divided between the BJP and Congress. The BJP wants to consolidate this vote base. Modi also garlanded 'Onake' Obavva, said to be a Dalit, who fought Hyder Ali's soldiers singlehandedly with her pestle.
The stress on the Kempe Gowda statue made it apparent that BJP was looking beyond the Lingayat community, its backbone when it comes to elections. The party started cultivating the Lingayats since the mid-1990s and the community has supported it election after election. The sidelining of BS Yediyurappa, the Lingayat leader who was forcibly made to vacate the Chief Minister's post some 15 months ago, is perceived to have angered the community although the party was cautious enough to replace him with Bommai, also a Lingayat.
The BJP has never got a foothold in the Vokkaliga heartland of Old Mysore region of Bengaluru Rural-Mandya-Hassan belt. While the party lacks a tall leader who can catch votes in this part of Karnataka, the region is dominated by the JD(S), with the Congress chipping in with the remaining votes, especially in the assembly polls. The BJP would be happy if it gets a few seats in the region as it would be crucial in the event of a close assembly tally. It remains to be seen if PM Modi's Friday dash plays its part in helping them achieve this.
(BS Arun is a political analyst based in Bengaluru)