Anita Katyal | Congress in Karnataka overconfident; why is Malik seeing Gadkari?

The Asian Age.  | Anita Katyal

Opinion, Columnists

While its campaign is essentially being led by Mallikarjun Kharge, all senior leaders, want to be fielded for electioneering

There is a mad scramble among the Congress leaders who wish to mark their presence in the campaign even though the local leaders are not enthused about it. (Photo: PTI/File)

There is an air of over-confidence in the Congress camp as its leaders are convinced that the Karnataka elections will definitely see the exit of the current Bharatiya Janata Party government. While its campaign is essentially being led by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, former president Rahul Gandhi, former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and state party president D.K. Shivakumar, all senior leaders, want to be fielded for electioneering to be able to brag later that they too had contributed to the party’s win. As a result, there is a mad scramble among the Congress leaders who wish to mark their presence in the campaign even though the local leaders are not enthused about it as they believe they have things under control and don’t necessarily need help from out of state campaigners. This has, however, not stopped the senior netas from pushing their case. One senior general secretary complained that he was not being fielded only because he is from the North even though he has the requisite experience in the field. When no one paid any attention to him, the persistent leader called up the Congress president to plead his case. Needless to say, he was on the next flight to Bengaluru.


While the Congress is confident about the Karnataka poll result, the Bharatiya Janata Party, as always, is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and appeal to offset the anti-incumbency of the Basavaraj Bommai government. Having been on the defensive so far, the BJP believes it will set the agenda now that Mr Modi has hit the campaign trail and as polling day draws close, the narrative will change in its favour. There is also a realisation in the party that all will be lost if it fails to put the Congress on the mat. The BJP also believes it can only succeed in its mission if it is able to amplify the Prime Minister’s message across the state and to the hinterland. Party strategists have, therefore, drawn up a list of senior leaders who will spread across the state to ensure that the momentum generated by Mr Modi’s whirlwind tour is not lost. In fact, Union ministers Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani and others were in the poll-bound prior to Mr Modi’s tour to set the stage for his whirlwind campaign. While the Congress is banking on its local leaders and raising local issues, the BJP is depending on its Central leaders and is focusing on national issues to deflect attention from the Bommai government's failures.


That Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not want Bharatiya Janata Party MPs and office bearers to interact freely with the media is now well-known. But now, it appears he also frowns upon party MPs and ministers having any contact with Opposition party leaders, especially if they are vocal in their criticism of the ruling dispensation. Earlier, the Central Hall in Parliament was one place where political leaders of all hues could talk freely with the media and with each other. In fact, Central Hall was the scene of much bonhomie among leaders from opposite sides of the political divide as they chatted amiably over sandwiches and coffee. But there’s been a sea change since the Covid-19 pandemic. Using that as a pretext, the media has been barred from the Central Hall while BJP MPs and ministers are rarely sighted as they are discouraged from sitting there. In fact, an Opposition leader, a former BJP ally, admitted privately that a minister, who was his good friend, has virtually stopped talking to him on the plea that it could get him into trouble with party bosses.


When K.C. Tyagi was spokesperson of the Janata Dal (U), he was in constant demand by media-persons. Now that he no longer holds that position, Mr Tyagi ensures his visibility in political and other circles by his presence at all social gatherings. Whether it is a wedding, a funeral, a book launch or a seminar, Mr Tyagi makes it a point to be there. Photographs of these functions are also shared extensively with media persons and others. For instance, Mr Tyagi was present at former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s book launch, Lok Sabha MP Danish Ali’s iftar party, a religious function at Haridwar among other events. More recently, Mr Tyagi was the special guest of honour at a programme organised by the Builders’ Association of India for the “installation” of its national vice-president.  Despite his hectic schedule, Mr Tyagi makes time for an evening cup of coffee at his favourite cafe in Khan Market.


Political observers in the capital are busy trying to decode former governor Satyapal Malik’s outburst against the Modi government. In a series of interviews, Mr Malik has alleged he was offered a bribe of Rs.300 crores to clear some files when he was governor of Jammu and Kashmir. He also charged that the CRPF contingent gunned down in a terrorist attack at Pulwama was denied the use of a helicopter. The question is, why is Mr Malik taking on the BJP top bosses? Is Mr Malik desperate to get back into active politics for he has rallied farmers from West Uttar Pradesh in his support and is now backing the protesting wrestlers? It is obvious the BJP’s doors are shut for him. In that case, why is he seeking appointments with Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari?


Anita Katyal is a Delhi-based journalist