The campaign about nothing

Siddaramaiah’s government has been functioning since May 2013 with one eye on the Lok Sabha polls. The lowest moment was when KPCC president G. Parameshwara taunted H.D. Deve Gowda by saying he was waiting for the former prime minister to consume poison.

Despite the high stakes in Karnataka for both Congress and BJP, the election debate has been noisy and substance-free.

As Karnataka prepares to go to the polls on Thursday, the campaign has been largely ill-tempered and substance-free. Tears have flowed freely, and so has political mudslinging. The lowest moment was when KPCC president G. Parameshwara taunted H.D. Deve Gowda by saying he was waiting for the former prime minister to consume poison, as the latter had threatened to do if the JD(S) lost the assembly elections. Parameshwara quickly retracted his comment. The funniest instance was when JD(S) opponents, concerned by Deve Gowda and H.D. Kumaraswamy’s ability to shed tears copiously, considered asking the Election Commission to declare shedding tears while canvassing an election code violation. As always, charges of corruption and communalism have been levied against all.

Still, for all the noise, it has also been a substance-free campaign. True, Kannada television channels have organised debates between candidates or their surrogates, carried out constituency profiles and discussions on development. Most candidates have also released individual manifestos for their respective constituencies. The print media hasn’t lagged behind. Vijaya Karnataka, the leading Kannada daily, offered an agenda for each Lok Sabha constituency, and then made leading candidates from nine constituencies ask and respond to five questions from each other.

Much ink has also been spilled on how MPs, and particularly ministers from Karnataka, historically haven’t been vocal advocates of the state’s interests. It is true that Karnataka hasn’t produced outstanding parliamentarians, in the Madhu Limaye or Indrajit Gupta model. Nor has Karnataka generated strong leaders, who, as Central ministers, exert greater influence and bring disproportionate Central resources to the state. Kannada activists and media have been harking on the alleged pliancy of the state’s politicians, holding up Mamata Banerjee or J. Jayalalithaa as more appropriate models to emulate. JD(S) supremo and former PM Deve Gowda justifies the political relevance of his party exactly on this issue, arguing that only an “extortionist” regional party could protect the state’s interests. But this discussion has not made it to the actual campaigning. The star campaigners, be it Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi, have stuck to political muckraking. State leaders have been mostly ill-tempered, attacking each other and anyone who dares to take part in the political discourse.

Karnataka is a critical, battleground state for both the BJP and Congress, a fact that has led both Modi and Rahul Gandhi to visit repeatedly. Modi has been a more aggressive campaigner, and if there is a slight edge for the BJP, it is quite possibly because of the Modi factor. The party has bet on Modi to paper over differences within, especially over the return of …continued »