Amid hijab-halal row, as Karnataka’s BJP surges, early poll speculation

A sudden increase in political activity in Karnataka – including a surge in right-wing propaganda in recent days – has given rise to speculation that the state may be heading for assembly elections before the end of the term. of the BJP government in April 2023.

State Congress Speaker DK Shivakumar actually let slip at a press conference this week that Congress has information that Karnataka elections will be announced on November 27 this year – in what is seen as a possible reference to the Karnataka polls being held in conjunction with Gujarat polls.

“As the media has sources, we also have sources,” Shivakumar said when questioned based on his statement that state polls would be announced on November 27 this year.

Since the BJP recorded a landslide election victory in four states earlier this month, there has been speculation in political circles that the BJP high command is inclined to conduct early polls in Karnataka to capitalize on the momentum from recent victories.

The Karnataka BJP, which has been rocked by allegations of corruption at many levels, is seeking to overcome corruption and pressure from the ruling opposition by holding early polls, close associates of senior BJP government ministers have said. . BJP sources, however, claimed that the party has yet to decide whether to go to a snap election, but is keen to ensure that new accusations do not emerge in the run-up to the election, which could damage the party’s prospects for a return to power. .

According to BJP sources, the party is keen to emulate its victory in UP and other states by participating in state polls with PM Modi and his development agenda as its main plank – while navigating the difficult terrain castes of Karnataka using low cost cement. of Hindutva.

Over the past few weeks, part of the agenda that the three main political parties – the BJP, Congress and the secular Janata Dal party – will be rolling out for the upcoming polls has been publicly evident, which also indicates the feeling that the polls of State will be held earlier than scheduled in Karnataka.

Over the past few weeks, the ruling BJP affiliates in the Sangh Parivar – the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Hindu Jagarana Vedike and outlier right-wing groups like the Bajrang Dal and Sri Rama Sena – have bolstered Karnataka’s communal agenda by targeting minority Muslims in particular.

Right-wing groups have issued calls to prevent Muslim vendors from attending temple festivals during the current temple festival season, as well as calls for a boycott of halal meat by Hindus after the Karnataka New Year festival. in Ugadi on April 2. Calls by right-wing groups on social media and through physical campaigns have received quiet support from the ruling BJP government, even though BJP officials like BJP General Secretary CT Ravi have endorsed such moves. than the boycott of halal meat as an effort to counter “economic jihad”.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s silence on the right’s strident divisive agenda is now being questioned by civil society groups and others.

In the first major corporate voice on Wednesday, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, executive chairman of Biocon Ltd, urged Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to address the “growing religious divide” in the state. Taking to Twitter, Shaw, while referring to a report in The Indian Express and tagging Bommai, said: “Karnataka has always forged inclusive economic development and we must not allow such community exclusion – if IT / BT was going communal it would destroy our world leadership @BSBommai please resolve this growing religious divide.

For his part, Bommai said the state government is focusing on implementing a development agenda and will respond to calls to tackle the communal propaganda of BJP affiliates at the appropriate time. “We know when to act and we will. We will not intervene until necessary,” Bommai said.

The opposition Congress, which hopes a soft Hindutva agenda will win out over the party come election time, has been largely silent on the right-wing divisive agenda, with key leaders such as the former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah being forced into silence by party dictates.

The Janata Dal (secular) party, which will try to win enough seats to become a possible coalition partner of the BJP or Congress in the next state polls – as it did in the 2004 and 2018 polls – Recently Days tried to regain its political space by stepping out of the shadow of the BJP, where the party had taken refuge after a coalition with Congress collapsed in 2019.

JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy has made overtures to Muslim voters – who used to be a constituency of the party – as he spoke forcefully about attempts by right-wing groups to cause divisions in society by preventing Muslims from selling out during elections. temple festivals and boycotting halal meat.

“Our chief minister (Bommai) is a puppet of certain organizations. He runs the government on their orders. To protect his seat, he listens to everything they say. Where is the government’s decision on calls for a community trade boycott? There is no definite decision taken on any of this by the government,” the former chief minister said this week.

Over the next two days, top Congress and BJP leaders – Rahul Gandhi and Amit Shah – are due to visit the Lingayat Siddagana Mutt in the Tumkur region of the state on the occasion of the former’s 115th birthday. Mutt seer, Shivakumar Swamiji, who passed away in 2019.

While Gandhi will visit the Siddaganga Mutt on Thursday, the Union Home Secretary will visit the Mutt on Friday. Shah’s visit to Tumkur is likely to be a show of strength by the Lingayat community and its main leader, former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa who is keen to pass on his political legacy to his younger son BY Vijayendra. The father-son duo are the main organizers of the seer’s official birthday celebrations at Tumkur Mutt.

The Lingayat vote in Karnataka has been seen as the key to winning polls in the state so far. The community has been supportive of the BJP lately and remains largely loyal to Yediyurappa’s leadership. The BJP leadership however is known to want to move away from reliance on a caste and its leader for its electoral fortunes in Karnataka and is more in favor of Hindutva and development as the main plank. politics while forging alliances across the caste spectrum. .

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