Reclaim the night
With widespread anger among the youth against the moral police of the Sangh Parivar and sharp intra-party hostility against 'dictator' BS Yeddyurappa, it's not going to be a red carpet for the BJP
Girish Nikam Bangalore
A group of college students in Bangalore in their final year of graduation were planning to go on a motorbike trip outside, before they broke up. Though they all had girlfriends or friends who were girls, some of who wanted to go along on that trip, the boys decided against it. Their reason: "We didn't want to be accosted by these Ram Sene goons and create a mess," one of the students remarked.
Life for youngsters in Karnataka, used to the free-flowing ways of urban Karnataka till some time back, has become tension-filled and worrisome in the last one year. Ever since the advent of the first BJP government south of the Vindhyas, incidents of moral policing and attacks on minorities' and their places of worship have multiplied.
In Bangalore, a couple of youngsters, first-time voters, discussing the pros and cons of the elections, were overheard talking of how BJP has to be voted out, if they wanted a "normal life". There seems an unanimous current against the rather retrograde muscle-flexing of the "Hindutva Taliban". How far this derision with the ways of the moral vigilantes, who are inevitably associated with the ruling party, will have an impact on the voting pattern, is yet to be assessed. However, what is visible is the growing disenchantment among the urban youth about the BJP and the ways of its parivar.
Meanwhile, this campaign against the minorities and moral vigilantism has been able to recruit to its ranks, host of young people, mainly unemployed and under-employed, especially in the semi-rural areas, who have been spreading fear, like in the Mangalore pub attack, as well as instances in neighbouring Puttur and Udupi.
Reports of young men and women, voluntarily refraining from being seen together in public places, especially as a couple, are being reported from many parts, mainly in coastal and south Karnataka. Simultaneously, the resistance to such actions is also growing, as concerned liberals and secular-minded people have started forming civil society groups and holding demonstrations. One such 'Reclaim the Night' programme, held in the first week of April across many cities in the state, has been quite successful.
For the BJP, this southern state -- which it won after decades of working on the ground and persistent communal polarisation by the RSS and VHP - is the key if it can even think of upsetting the UPA applecart at the Centre. Having won 18 of the 28 seats in 2004, its biggest challenge is to retain it. Though it won the assembly elections last year and managed to set up its first state government in the south, the party has been shaken with inter-party rivalries ever since. And the state government shows no direction. Chief Minister, BS Yeddyurappa, who achieved his life-long dream, has in the bargain acquired an image of a "dictator" among many of his cabinet and party colleagues. His one-year term in office has been full of controversies which include several incidents of moral policing and anti-minority violence, which his government is seen as quietly and tacitly encouraging. Stories abound about the "impending war" within the cabinet, and the disgust being expressed by several senior colleagues of Yeddyurappa.
The chief minister has encouraged several 'saffronisation' programmes including terrorism awareness events for students, generous offerings to various mutts and temples, while gaining popularity among these sections. The heads of various mutts and religious leaders have in turn shown their gratitude by participating in 'dharma raksha sabhas' aimed at consolidating the Hindu vote. It is these programmes which the BJP is hoping to cash on during the elections to retain the 18 seats it had won, and also improve on it. The success of drafting religious heads to their side has been quite successful.
It was evident, when the Adi Chunchunagiri Mutt, the Vokkaliga sect's religious entity, virtually a creation of former Prime Minister, HD Deve Gowda, in the early 1980s, had BJP President Rajnath Singh inaugurating its Varanasi branch in the third week of April. And all the invitees to the programme were from the BJP. There was no sign of any members of the Gowda family.
However, as the BJP goes about consolidating the Hindu vote bank cutting across caste lines, the inner-party rivalry is going out of hand. The Yeddyurappa-Ananth Kumar battle was played out in the open when tickets for the Lok Sabha elections were announced. The absence of Ananth Kumar, former Union minister and a powerful BJP general secretary, at the crucial meeting on ticket distribution, was a clear signal.
It is no secret that Kumar has been encouraging detractors of Yeddyurappa to come out in the open and attack his ways. What got the goat of Kumar and his supporters was the brazen way in which the chief minister promoted and managed to get his son the ticket for the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat. Despite efforts by the high command to resolve this internecine warfare, it is likely to be carried right into the polls.
The inability of the Congress and the Janata Dal(S) to work out an alliance, despite the former working hard for it, may go in favour of the BJP to some extent. The other big factor weighing heavily in favour of the BJP is the money power, in the form of the infamous Reddy brothers of Bellary. This 'mining mafia', as they are dubbed commonly, is all set to repeat 2008, by letting money flow generously.
The Congress intends to take on the twin clout of money and mutts by fielding heavyweights from various seats, including former chief ministers, SM Krishna, Veerappa Moily, S Bangarappa, Dharam Singh and ministers like Mallikarjun Kharge among others, and has already launched what looks like a unified campaign. One of the biggest problems faced by the Congress in the past, and until recently, was its inability to bring its warring leaders together. It had proved extremely costly last year in the assembly elections. Significantly, the rally at Davanagere, attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, to launch the party's Bharat Nirman campaign, saw all the state leaders participating.
The Congress is hoping to encash on the angry reaction to the moral policing which is evident among youngsters in urban and semi-urban areas, and even their middle class families which have been the backbone of the BJP in the last few years. The BJP has another disadvantage. In almost half of the 28 constituencies, it has no candidate of stature among its ranks and is depending heavily on the 'imports' through 'Operation Kamala', launched to lure candidates from other parties.
For Deve Gowda's Janata Dal (S), however, these elections have limited interest, as its presence is limited to half-a-dozen seats in the Vokkaliga belt in the southern part of the state. Efforts by Congress leaders at the Centre to work out an alliance with Janata Dal(S) have come a cropper. Sonia Gandhi even met Gowda's son, and former chief minister, HD Kumaraswamy, in March. But those efforts have come unstuck as Gowda wants to retain his party's exclusive identity. He is, in fact, looking forward to the next assembly polls, which he feels will happen sooner than later.
In this scenario, the fight is likely to be a straight one between the Congress and BJP in about 22 of the 28 seats. For Yeddyurappa, it has more significance than for anyone else as a performance poorer than in 2004 is bound to bring out his detractors within the party into the open. That could prompt a free-for-all threatening his survival.