Bengaluru: Ever since the Congress announced last week that it would “ban” the Bajrang Dal if voted to power in Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been criticizing the Congress for allegedly insulting Lord Hanuman. The Congress, in its manifesto, had alleged that organizations like the Bajrang Dal “promote enmity” between communities and promised decisive action if voted to power in the May 10 elections.
However, voters in Karnataka appear to be more concerned with issues like job opportunities, inflation and access to bank credit than political tussles.
ThePrint traveled across Bengaluru to find out whether this new twist in the BJP’s campaign has changed the mood on the ground.
Barely 500 meters from the Karnataka BJP headquarters in Malleswaram – state minister and party MLA C.N. Ashwath Narayan – Sri Gangamma Devi Temple.
A 70-year-old woman, who has been selling prasad outside the temple for the past 23 years, told ThePrint that she had not heard about the BJP’s attack on the Bajrang Dal or the Congress over its promise of a ‘ban’. “Our life has become difficult because of the increase in prices every month,” he said. “There’s no bar on that.” She was not looking inclined to vote for BJP.
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Sitting nearby are two devotees, Kumar and Prashant – both BJP supporters, but not bothered about the Bajrang Dal issue. According to him, it is the popularity of the PM that will fetch the party votes.
Kumar said, “Bajrang Dal is not an issue… no one can ban it and no one will vote for BJP because of it.” “This is Modi’s job… He has helped people during Covid by providing vaccines and saving lives.”
Suresh, who works at the temple, said that late Congress leader B.K. Hariprasad, who helped build several temples in the state. He said, “Modi has done nothing… The image of the Congress as an anti-Hindu party has been maligned, but this is not true.”
A few kilometers away in Basavanagudi is the 15th century Nandi temple. At the entrance of the temple, Girija, who has been selling Ganesha idols for the past 13 years, said PM Modi is like a “god” to her. However, he had one request. “No bank gives loans to poor people like me… (the prime minister) should allow services like Aadhaar card registration or opening of Jan Dhan accounts,” he told ThePrint.
Both Malleswaram and Basavanagudi are BJP strongholds.
Bengaluru has become a battle of prestige for the BJP battling anti-incumbency in the state. Facing severe backlash due to civic issues like floods, traffic woes and depleting lakes during monsoon, the party hopes that PM Modi’s charisma will help in the capital city.
Even in urban parts of Bengaluru, Modi’s popularity outweighs that of the Bajrang Dal, even as the BJP tries to consolidate its core Hindutva vote bank to derail the Congress’ campaign in the state. To ensure this, senior Congress leaders like state unit chief D.K. Shivakumar and former CM Siddaramaiah, who have been attacking the BJP government on local issues, also started visiting temples after the controversy escalated.
Shivakumar even said that the party would oversee the development of Hanuman temples across the state. He has visited the Anjanadri hill which is one of the places which is believed to be the birthplace of the deity.
Speaking to ThePrint at the BJP Bengaluru office, Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said his party did not raise the issue. It was the Congress that had promised a “ban”. “We are only exposing (him) to the public,” he said.
Speaking to ThePrint, S.Y. Surendra, professor of political science at Bangalore University, told ThePrint, “The Bajrang Dal issue is not a game changer. It will not have any major impact on the election results, but to some extent it will neutralize the anti-incumbency wave.
“It may also help break backward caste consolidation in favor of the Congress… Since Modi is using his personality and his work to mainstream, no one can talk about (CM Basavaraj) Bommai’s track record Not talking. It is a clever move, in which the Congress is forced to react only to the BJP’s statement.”
According to Congress-Karnataka working president Ramalinga Reddy, this is a diversionary strategy by the BJP. “They do not want to face elections with their track record of governance. So they are diverting attention from the real issue of corruption and (lack of) it.
Congress spokesperson Prof. Gaurav Vallabh said, ‘We worship Bajrang Bali every day. Bajrang Bali destroyed Lanka and now on May 13 (the day of counting of votes) BJP’s corruption will destroy Lanka.
Also read: Eight CMs changed in Karnataka since 2008, but only one party dominated 25% of the seats in the state
Bajrang Dal controversy
Bajrang Dal – which takes its name from Bajrang Bali, or Lord Hanuman – is the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and a constituent of the Sangh. In its manifesto, Congress has compared Bajrang Dal to the banned Islamic organization Popular Front of India (PFI).
Following this, the Bajrang Dal allegedly filed a defamation charge of Rs 100 crore against the Congress. Meanwhile, campaigning in the poll-bound state this weekend, PM Narendra Modi kept the focus on Bajrang Dal during his roadshows.
Both coastal and northern Karnataka are BJP strongholds, but the latter’s vote is based on caste, as voting trends over the years have shown. But Bajrang Dal has a strong presence in coastal Karnataka.
Soon after the controversy escalated, the BJP organized Hanuman Chalisa recitals across the state. But the promised ‘ban’ and BJP’s attempt to capitalize on the issue may not bring the desired results in other parts of the state.
At a local ice cream parlor in Jayanagar, Mithun, a civil services aspirant and from the Lingayat community, told ThePrint that his focus is on employment opportunities.
“Every government promises employment but in reality it does not happen. Jobs are decreasing every year,” he said. “I will vote on leadership… If Yeddyurappa was the chief minister, BJP would have easily got majority… It looks uncertain now.”
In Jayanagar, a Congress bastion and part of the Bengaluru South constituency, the BJP has fielded C.K. Ramamurthy is hoping to wrest the seat from sitting Congress MLA Soumya Reddy.
There is a famous Hanuman temple on the Bangalore-Mysore road – Gali Anjaneya Temple. Created in the 15th century, it highlights how an issue can easily turn into a political issue. Locals shared how the temple premises get flooded many times during the monsoons. He said that the devotees have taken up the issue with the civic authorities, but to no avail.
Akhilesh, who had recently bought a car, was on his way to a temple to worship and seek the blessings of the deity for his purchase. He said, “Congress should not have done this…” He said that the organization and Lord Hanuman should not be linked. However, he said that his vote would go to Modi, “because he is doing good work”.
change in strategy
As soon as the Congress announced its promise to rein in the Bajrang Dal if voted to power, the BJP made a rapid inroad. It changed its campaign to attack the Congress for insulting Bajrang Bali. At several of his rallies, PM Modi has invoked the deity to attack his rivals, even asking the public to chant ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ while holding up their respective cell phones with torches.
At a rally, he said, “Please cast your vote and don’t forget to chant ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ when you exercise your right to vote.”
Addressing a BJP rally in Karnataka’s Vijayanagara district last Tuesday, PM Modi alleged, “Congress had earlier shut down Lord Ram, now it wants to shut down those who chant ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’.” .
The next day, to further motivate the party cadre, he chanted ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ at all the three public meetings across Karnataka along with the call of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’.
This weekend, at the PM’s road shows on Saturday and Sunday, loudspeakers blared ‘Bajrang Bali ki Jai’ while cutouts of the deity dominated the background.
Many BJP leaders and supporters came dressed as Lord Hanuman or wearing the mask of the deity to register their protest against the Congress. Many such masks were also distributed on the way.
The BJP is looking to strengthen its position in urban Bengaluru, which has 28 seats and the party itself is on thin ice on civic issues. In 2018, it won just 11 seats and needs to win decisively to get a majority. In coastal Karnataka and Kodagu, the party won 18 out of 21 seats in the last elections, but repeating that performance may be difficult.
A local BJP leader told ThePrint that raising the Bajrang Dal issue could help divert attention from local civic issues, adding that bringing the PM for a roadshow was a well-planned strategy to energize voters.
“Knowing that Bengaluru has a history of low voter turnout on polling days, this kind of Hindutva move with the PM’s roadshow will prove to be a game changer for the party in the final phase of the campaign,” he added.
The emphasis of Hindutva in the coastal region
A senior BJP leader involved in campaign management told ThePrint, “The election is all about narrative and strategy. Initially, we were replying to the Congress on the allegations of corruption.”
“Now that they have given us an issue, we focused on Bajrang Bali as there are a large number of temples of the deity in the state. We know that this issue will not attract us in the entire state, but our cadre will get energized especially in the coastal region.
He said, “Once the PM asks the public to chant ‘Bajrang Bali Ki Jai’, the message goes to other districts as well. Congress abandoned its own strategy and got all defensive while replying to us. ,
Another BJP leader told ThePrint, “Our feedback (from grassroots workers) was that we were losing many seats in coastal Karnataka, but since the Bajrang Bali issue, we are back in the game and have won many seats. The anti-wave has reduced to some extent.
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(Editing: Pooja Mehrotra)
Read here: ‘We don’t need the BJP’—why a section of Lingayats swung in favor of the Congress ahead of the Karnataka elections