In poll season, Modi faces southern test (Karnataka Newsletter)
By V.S. Karnic, Bangalore, March 23 : Scarred by scandal after scandal, Karnataka's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is roping in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to help it retain power even though he did not make much of an impact the last time he campaigned in the state.
Flush with another victory in Gujarat and hailed as the future prime minister by a section of the BJP, Modi faces a severe test of his ability to woo Karnataka voters as the party is in a mess in the state.
The election to the 225-member assembly that includes one nominated member is on May 5. Though the BJP and other parties have launched the campaign already, it will pick up momentum only after nominations close April 17.
Vote count is on May 8.
The Karnataka BJP has not yet spelt out how extensively it will make Modi tour the state to seek votes for it in the May 5 elections.
In the last assembly poll in 2008 when BJP managed to come to power for the first time in the southern state, Modi had toured a very few places but the party did not sweep those areas.
This time around, Modi and the BJP in Karnataka are in sharply contrasting positions - he seems to be on the ascendancy while the party in the state is on a downhill journey.
Modi cannot even sell his much-touted 'Gujarat model of development' in Karnataka as almost every BJP leader in the state has been mouthing it while people witnessed unending corruption scandals, dissidence and change of chief ministers.
Playing on the 'Hindu Hruday Samrat' (darling of Hindus as Modi is described by his admirers) sentiment can also boomerang on the BJP as the party has been taught a bitter lesson because of excesses by rightwing Hindu activists in its stronghold coastal areas. The BJP was routed in these areas in the recent municipal polls.
This leaves Modi and the BJP to talk about Congress corruption, a touchy subject indeed for the party in Karnataka as its first chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa was forced out of office over mining bribery charges and is fighting over a dozen cases of graft.
While the party's third chief minister in the state Jagadish Shettar enjoys a clean image, he is saddled with several ministers, including two deputy chief ministers, K.S. Eshwarappa and R. Ashoka, fighting corruption and cases of illegal land deals.
Eshwarappa was also state unit president till March 21.
Other issues like Congress practising vote-bank politics and its inability to curb terrorism have been flogged so often by BJP that they no longer impress the voters.
Besides lack of issues on which Modi can try to sway Karnataka voters, the Gujarat chief minister also has to effectively blunt Yeddyurappa's relentless campaign against his former party.
That seems easier said than done as Yeddyurappa, who quit the BJP in November and is heading the Karnataka Janata Party, has been repeating almost daily that he "is a victim of conspiracy by a section of state and central BJP leaders".
Against such an all-round bleak backdrop, Modi's election campaign in the state, whether short or extensive, may end up as a huge hype with all the limelight on him and little benefit for the beleaguered party.
(V. S. Karnic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)