It is Siddaramaiah versus Modi now in Karnataka. And with the state going to polls in less than 48 hours, and Narendra Modi wrapping up his final election rally last evening in Bidar, this battle is all set to be an interesting one.
With two days to go for the elections, all parties have stepped up efforts to woo the voter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing a whirlwind tour of the state and has upped the ante with his sharp attacks on the Siddaramaiah government. The acronyms he has used – 2+1, 1+1, 10 cent government, PPP to name a few – have become very popular in the state, . Analysts notice an upswing in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prospects since he has entered the field.
A sharp exchange of words between the Prime Minister and Chief Minister is seen almost daily. The BJP’s social media which was seen lagging until now has got a new lease of life raising doubts even in the minds of Congress supporters – ‘Did the party peak too early’? #BJP4NammaKarnataka, #KannadigasWithModi, #NaavuModiJothe, #MahilaParaBJPSarkara and #BJP4NammaBengaluru have trended well on twitter in the last week since Modi started campaigning.
While the election is all about Modi for the BJP now, for the Congress it’s all about Siddaramaiah. Siddaramaiah, an import from Janata Dal (Secular), has established himself as the undisputed leader of the Congress party in his last battle. Like Punjab’s Captain Amarinder, Siddaramaiah is more popular than Rahul Gandhi in the state. Rahul has given the steering to Siddaramaiah and taken a back seat. There is a clear trend emerging – it's not Rahul but Siddaramaiah who has taken the mantle upon himself to respond to Modis’ allegations. This has turned the elections into virtually a Modi versus Siddaramaiah contest. Taking the contest to the next level, he has filed a defamation suit against Modi and Yeddyurappa for misleading people with false allegations, painting his government as 10 per cent commission government.
It is rather disappointing to see the PM failing to speak like a Prime Minister, time & again. Cities around the country are under pressure, particularly the dynamic ones like Bengaluru. But to call it names like crime capital, valley of sin, etc. is an insult to us Bengalureans. https://t.co/OpMFt3NnX7— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) May 3, 2018
Siddaramaiah wants to give a signal that Yeddyurappa is no match for him. He is leading across surveys of popularity ratings of who is best suited to be the Chief Minister of the state. As some followers pointed on twitter, Yeddyurappa is fairly popular in rural Karnataka but not so much in urban Karnataka, which is why his ratings have suffered. Fair point. Through this strategy, Siddaramaiah wins the state leadership battle and it pitches him nationally against Modi. Only two leaders earlier took on Modi like this and incidentally won the elections – Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and Nitish Kumar in Bihar.
The latest CSDS survey validates this strategy. His rating as per the survey is higher than Modi. This was witnessed only in Bihar and Delhi. This may help Siddaramaiah battle anti-incumbency of sitting MLAs. In Bihar Nitish Kumar’s net likeability rating of 52 per cent was higher than Modi’s (47 per cent). In Delhi Arvind Kejriwal (40 per cent) was more popular than even Modi (31 per cent) and Rahul Gandhi (7 per cent) before elections in February 2015.
However, this strategy is fraught with dangers for the Congress party. Modi is more popular than Siddaramaiah in Karnataka even by the findings of this survey. He still leads Rahul Gandhi nationally by over 30 percentage points. In southern states, Modi is most popular in Karnataka. This strategy helps Modi and the BJP. It provides a platform for Modi to talk not just about issues concerning the state but national ones as well. He is seen hitting at the non-performance of Congress governments at the centre, raising historical blunders of Congress regimes and presenting BJP’s vision of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. Modi has demolished CM after Congress CM starting from Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Assam to Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Manipur and Meghalaya. On a national level, Modi and the BJP are far ahead of the Congress.
Which is why Siddaramiah’s strategy, though smart, may be the biggest reason of his unbecoming. A cracker of an elections on the cards.