Bengaluru: The vitriol-filled campaign for the Karnataka Assembly elections ended today with top leaders of the BJP and Congress, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, making a last-gasp effort to sway the voters in a likely cliffhanger.
From corruption to communalism, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s Rs 70 lakh Hublot watch to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, the electoral potboiler had it all.
Like all state polls since he assumed the reins of power in New Delhi, Modi helmed the BJP’s adrenaline-charged campaign despite the party having declared B S Yeddyurappa its chief ministerial candidate, while Rahul Gandhi helmed that of the Congress.
Though Modi remained out of the electoral scene for a long time after addressing a public meeting in February, he launched a blitzkrieg on May 1, addressing over a score of rallies in his bid to wrest the key southern state, which BJP chief Amit Shah dubbed as the party’s “gateway to south”, from the Congress.
Always high on energy during elections, he adddressed at least three rallies every day when he was in Karnataka, or else interacted with workers of the BJP’s different frontal organisations through the ‘Namo App’.
Though development remained part of the political discourse, it was overtaken by a slanging match between the two parties over corruption.
The prime minister and Amit Shah raised the issue of the killing of RSS and BJP workers by SDPI, a radical Islamist political party floated by the Popular Front of India, which Modi said was the “abc of communalism”.
Shah claimed two of the candidates fielded by the Congress were, in fact, members of the SDPI.
On day one of his campaign, Modi raked up the issue of Sonia’s foreign origin at an election rally where he dared the Congress chief to speak for 15 minutes about the achievements of the Karnataka government in any language, including his “mother’s mother tongue”.
An emotional Rahul Gandhi hit back today at a press conference where he said,”My mother is an Italian. She has lived the larger part of her life in India. She is more Indian than many, many Indians I have seen.”
Modi repeatedly addressed the Siddaramaiah ministry as “seedha rupaiah government (a government that takes bribes for work) and “10 per cent commission government”.
Provoked, Siddaramaiah first called the Modi dispensation a “90 per cent commission government” and then served legal notices to Modi and Shah, demanding an apology and threatening to file Rs 100 crore civil and criminal defamation suit if they did not tender it.
Rally after election rally, Rahul Gandhi targeted BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa over corruption when he helmed the state while BJP was in power between 2008 and 2013.
“Will Modi ji tell the people of Karnataka why a man who spent time in jail for corruption is the BJP’s CM candidate? Why the BJP has given 8 tickets to Reddy brothers and their associates who looted Rs 35,000 crore from the people of Karnataka?” he asked, as he sought to paint the saffron party into a corner.
The Congress president frequently referred to fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi in his speeches, alleging the government allowed him to flee the country after defrauding the Punjab National Bank fraud.
Modi, who has powered the BJP to victory after victory in Assembly polls in states in the last four years, also invoked nationalism and B R Ambedkar, after he was in the Congress president’s firing line over a string of attacks on Dalits. He slammed the Congress for raising questions about the Army’s surgical strikes in PoK.
Though Modi did not campaign in Karnataka today, he addressed BJP’s SC/ST/OBC and Slum Morcha workers through his Namo App and said, “There is no place for dalits and backward classes in the heart of the Congress.” He accused the Congress of “insulting” Ambedkar, a Dalit icon.
Sonia Gandhi, who avoided the rough and tumble of elections for two years after she was taken ill during a roadshow in Varanasi ahead of the Uttar Pradesh polls, also addressed a rally in the Lingayat stronghold of Vijayapura where she said “Modi is possessed by the devil of ‘Congress mukt Bharat’ (bhoot lag gaya hai)”.
Apart from Shah, who vigourously campaigned across the state over the last two months, the BJP fielded its Hindutva mascot Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who toured the communally sensitive coastal belt of Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada district.
Adityanath exhorted electors to elect a government that can protect people from “jihadi” forces.
After Rahul Gandhi publicly declared he was ready to become the prime minister if Congress emerged as the single largest party, Modi mocked him, calling him a “dynast” and wondering whether the nation will accept him as its leader.
The campaign was hit by a “fake” voter ID card scandal in it dying moments, but election officials said those appeared to be genuine.
Nearly 10,000 cards were recovered from a flat in Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituency on Tuesday, setting off a war of words between the Congress and BJP, with each alleging the owner of the apartment owed allegiance to the rival party.
The contentious issue of the Siddaramaiah government recommending religious minority status for the numerically strong Lingayat community took a back seat as the two parties appeared unsure about its electoral fallout.
Opinion polls and surveys have projected a thriller of a contest, with neither BJP nor the Congress getting a majority on its own and the JD(S) of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda playing the kingmaker.
Polling for 223 seats of the 224-member Assembly will be held on May 12. Election for the Jayanagar seat was countermanded after the death of the sitting BJP MLA and its candidate B N Jayakumar. Results will be declared on May 15.