To stay on the message during the long and exhausting month and a half of electioneering is the biggest challenge for political parties.
New Delhi: South India completed polling in the third phase and a large chunk of central and east India finished polling by the fourth phase.
While in most southern states there was no apparent BJP or Modi wave as in 2014. In Karnataka, however, Narendra Modi was still considered the most popular candidate for Prime Minister.
Rahul Gandhi was not even seen as an option as against Modi even among Congress and JDS supporters. In Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana too if there was one person who was discussed the most whether negatively or positively for Prime Minister post-2019, it was Narendra Modi.
Senior Congress leaders in Karnataka have spoken about Rahul Gandhi several times but it was restricted only to the media. However, there was literally no mention of the Congress party’s prime ministerial candidate in their rallies and road shows
The Gowda family led Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) contested this election that gave mixed signals. The forever hyper-emotional Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy (HDK) batted way above his weight.
He even claimed that if they win enough seats, his father could be Prime Minister or advisor to the Prime Minister. That is of course if Rahul Gandhi became Prime Minister.
His son is on a weak wicket in Mandya though the party pulled out all stops to defeat independent candidate Sumalatha who was backed by the BJP. They called, cajoled and pleaded with members of the Vokkaliga community to which the Gowda family belongs to ensure Nikhil’s victory.
The party has made it a prestigous battle and the BJP was also hell-bent on seeing that the Gowda grandsons Nikhil and Prajwal (Revanna’s son) lose from Mandya and Hassan respectively.
Deve Gowda who vacated his seat in Hassan for his grandson has pinned his hopes on the people of Tumkur to elect him to the Lok Sabha yet again.
In an interview to ANI in which the 86 year old veteran spoke about being betrayed by almost all, he said that it was finally a request by Farooq Abdullah that convinced him that he had a lot to contribute to the nation and he should not call it quits to electoral politics. He spoke less of his son and more about himself during this election.
The media in Karnataka has been relentless in its criticism of Chief Minister HDK. He, too, lashes out at the media in every interaction. Victimhood in the Gowda family runs deep and wide. To stay in the news cycle and to irritate the media further HDK attacks Modi in every press conference.
The strategy is clear- if you make an outrageous comment about Modi, you can be certain that it will go viral on all kind of social media. Otherwise, the CM is generally the butt of all jokes and derision.
The media in North Karnataka where he is extremely unpopular stakes out hours in front of his hotel in the midday sun to ask him questions about his past unfulfilled promises. HDK brushes them aside as compulsions of the coalition, non-cooperation from Delhi and that the media is biased.
When I asked him why he makes bizarre comments like Modi uses wax and facials to appear fair and lovely and that is why the media focuses attention on him, HDK replies “why else do BJP workers tell people to vote by seeing Modi’s shining face?”
BJP picked its candidates in Karnataka keeping in mind their support base, pull among young voters, ability to make fiery speeches, their strong ideological loyalties and caste make up of the constituency.
Prahlad Joshi’s late-night meeting in a village in Dharwar had barely 30-40 people but he spoke as if there were hundreds who were listening in. The speech was peppered with references to Balakot and Pulwama.
I had presumed that a village which did not have running water, no pucca road, very few pucca houses and just a few of them had naked bulbs hanging inside the house would hardly respond to national security in speeches. But there was laughter and applause at the references to Pakistan and Rahul Gandhi’s demand for proof of strikes.
HDK in his speech in North Karnataka made a remark that Modi’s Balakot strike only burnt trees. There was silence in the audience, with even his party workers managing weak smiles. The reason is not difficult. There are families in this region who have sent their sons to the armed forces and feel affronted about any reference even mildly derogatory about anything to do with the armed forces.
The Congress party’s Siddaramiah leads the pack in poking fun at Modi. He uses ‘tu’ ‘uska’ ‘usne’ and disrespectful language while referring to the Prime Minister. Siddaramiah still behaves like he is Chief Minister, not having vacated the residence of CM in Bengaluru.
In Bangalore South, the Congress candidate BK Hariprasad too did not bother to speak about his rival the young Tejasvi Surya. He instead said made it very clear that his battle was with PM Modi and what PM Modi would do if elected again and how the people must choose against him.
On the ground, in Karnataka there is an annoyance with the coalition government and that has probably led to negative voting for the JDS and Congress. In some areas, the Congress candidates barely stepped out into the rural areas to campaign. There were hardly any posters or door to door campaigning.
The BJP, on the other hand, was assisted by the hundreds of thousands of RSS karyakartas whose only mission was winning. The only factor that they found difficult in winning the battle were caste barriers among voters.
Almost all Non Resident Indians (NRIs) who had come to vote in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are Modi fans. It could either be that the overseas BJP organisations are very effective or like a millionaire banker who from Singapore says, “making sure Modi gets a second term is a goal.”
He and his friends went to Varanasi to take part in Modi’s roadshow after casting their votes in their respective states.
From Karnataka, I headed to Odisha where the Modi wave is negligible. The BJP is hoping to make an impact in the state this time which has been the stronghold of Naveen Patnaik of the BJD for 19 years.
Here there are huge banners and hoardings of the BJP and almost cheek by jowl there are those of Naveen babu as well. Here local issues dominate the polls. Patnaik campaigns from his luxury bus, coming out rarely and addressing very few public meetings. His failing health is a topic of discussion and WhatsApp forwards but he is revered among the poor.
The blood battle in Kendrapada, his father's constituency where bitter rival and former BJD and now BJP candidate Baijayant Panda wants to stem the BJD tide is in the central focus of all TV channels.
Simultaneous polls have made it a tough choice for Odisha - loyalty for Naveen Patnaik who made the state his home and never left though he was an outsider or pick Modi who has promised development for Eastern India.
Violence between workers of both parties has marred the generally dignified manner in which electioneering has been conducted in the state so far.
To stay on the message during the long and exhausting month and a half of electioneering is the biggest challenge for political parties. The prime players have to sound convincing in their interactions and speeches to the voters.
The one tactic taking potshots at Modi, whether with ‘chowkidar chor hai’ or ‘Hitler Babu’ has not been abandoned by the opposition.