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Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018: Will PM Narendra Modi’s 'Shock and Awe' Mantra Reap Results?

PM Narendra Modi’s ability to influence electoral outcome through sheer tenacity and rhetoric in the last lap of canvassing has no match in the current line-up.

Sumit Pande | News18.com

Updated:April 30, 2018, 12:34 PM IST
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Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018: Will PM Narendra Modi’s 'Shock and Awe' Mantra Reap Results?
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Minister Ananth Kumar (left) and state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa at Parivartan Yatra in Bengaluru on February 4, 2018. (PTI)
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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on his Karnataka election campaign from Tuesday. Modi’s ability to influence electoral outcome through sheer tenacity and rhetoric in the last lap of canvassing has no match in the current line-up among political leadership across party lines.

BJP’s election strategy, fine-tuned by the Modi-Shah duo in the last five years, can broadly be delineated into two distinct phases. Phase-I involves a long-term preparation, which starts one year before the elections are due in a state. This phase primarily involves caste mobilisation of the core BJP base coupled with disruptive measures to make inroads opposition vote base.

For instance, in Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa as the BJP CM face was entrusted to rally Lingayat’s and also impinge on Congress’ core constituency, especially the Dalits. The former Chief Minister, thus, made it a point to dine at Dalit homes as he cross-crossed the state on his rath last year.

The attempt to mobilise smaller backward communities feeling alienated by dominant OBC castes in power is another crucial aspect of this strategy.

The second phase of BJP’s campaign in the last many elections revolves around Modi’s ‘shock and awe’ tactics, involving a series of rallies, meetings and road shows in the last two weeks in the run-up to polling.

These events are generally seen to be high on optics and rhetoric aimed at dazzling the fence-sitters. The Prime Minister using a sea plane during Gujarat campaign is one such instance.

BJP’s campaign trajectory is broadly defined by the ground work of Amit Shah and capped by the PM’s rallies. By sticking to this form of build-up, culminating in a crescendo of sorts, the BJP thus far has reaped rich electoral dividends in a vast majority of the states.

However, there have been two distinct exceptions to this rule — Delhi and Bihar in their respective 2015 assembly elections.

There were a lot of similarities in the two election campaigns. The opposition in both instances was led by a strong provincial leader, pitted against the Prime Minister. The leader in question was leading a non-Congress party and had a clean image. By the end of both the campaigns, the elections had turned broadly into a bipolar contest.

Both Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar were able to convince the voters that the elections were being held to elect a Chief Minister, who would cater to local needs, and not for the Prime Minister of the country.

In the build-up to the Karnataka elections, Siddaramaiah has played happily along with the BJP’s attempt to make it a CM vs PM contest. He’s quite consciously weaved a sub-nationalist undertone to his poll narrative. The CM has attempted to disrupt the BJP’s core consolidation by giving a go-ahead to a recommendation on recognition of Lingayats as a separate religious group.

All this notwithstanding, every election is a unique exercise in socio-political-economic churning.

In the last five years, very few states have given a fractured verdict; not even Punjab last year where the contest was genuinely multi-cornered between the AAP, the Congress and the Akali Dal.

Karnataka is a high stake battle for both the BJP and the Congress. It will test Congress’ ability to challenge the BJP in a direct contest. Most importantly, it will make or mar the Congress’ efforts to appropriate leadership of the alternative front against the NDA in 2019.
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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