The moment it was released, the Sarva Janangada Shanthiya Thota (a garden of peace comprising all communities), as the Congress party manifesto in Karnataka is titled, created ripples of controversy and was hugely contested, not because of the bulk of its content, but for those few sections which gained instant public and media traction. While the party might have hoped for the welfare scheme promise of free bus travel to all women, or a pension for the matriarchal head in every family to the tune of Rs 2,000 monthly, to hog the limelight, these got quickly glossed over.
The media noticed the controversial parts, as did the ruling BJP, and jumped in to attack the promise of the Congress to ban the Bajrang Dal, which it equated with the proscribed PFI. This the party has included in its agenda with the aim to prevent hate speech, hate crimes and communalisation of society. It also intends to repeal all “anti-people laws” passed by the BJP, and scrap the National Education Policy (NEP).
The thrust of the Congress manifesto incidentally was the five promises, standing for the five fingers of the human hand, which is the party symbol. The party pledged, if voted back to power in the state, it would ensure electricity, women’s pension, foodgrain for BPL families, unemployment support and free travel for women on state-run bus services. Predictably, these did not make the cut in most debates, political or media, by and large.
The BJP, which had earlier scrapped the four per cent reservations for Muslims and transferred it in two halves to two major caste groups — the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats, obviously stands by it, whereas the Congress has promised the restoration of quota for backward Muslims — an issue that garnered the bulk of attention.
The saffron party’s manifesto, too, was noticed and turned into headlines for the parts that were easily the most contentious, and divisive; including the imposition of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which would be followed up with action to deport all “illegal immigrants”.
The BJP also promised to identify housing sites for over a million homeless people, but it hardly found any space in social media discussions.
Similarly, while bemoaning the lack of adequate attention to issues faced by the citizens of Bengaluru, and other major cities, neither party could shift focus to it though both the BJP and Congress have made a few capital-specific promises, among them, creating a state capital region and dedicated efforts to solve urban woes.
The BJP’s welfare schemes, too, among them free monthly ration kits and three free cooking gas cylinders for households below poverty line, or its promises of development efforts, including an initiative to transform Karnataka into a hub of electric vehicles, went totally missing from most public speeches of its leaders.
The third party in the fray is the Janata Dal (Secular), and the state might see a tough three-cornered electoral fight. The JD(S), too, got maximum attention for its promise to reserve jobs in the private sector for Kannadigas, besides putting pressure on the Centre to hold most recruitment exams in Kannada.