The battle for Karnataka between the BJP and the Congress appears to have begun in right earnest with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mocking reference to the rivalry between the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
Modi started the day with these lines. “I don’t know if Kharge was addressing the treasury benches, the people of Karnataka or his own party when he spoke here (in the Lok Sabha) yesterday. He quoted Basheer Badr’s shayari, ‘dushmani jam se kare… jab dost ban jaye toh sharminda na karo’ (be an enemy with zest but when you become friends, don’t shame me). I am sure the Karnataka Chief Minister has definitely heard this shayari and this appeal of yours.”
Modi also said “that same shayari has this line: Jee bahut chaahta hai sach bolen, kya karen hausla nahin hota (I long for the truth be told, but what to do, there is no such hope). I don’t know if Kharge will continue in this seat after Karnataka elections. This could even be his farewell speech.”
The Prime Minister’s reference is to bring to the fore at the national level the rivalry between Kharge and Siddaramaiah, both of whom were contenders for the post of Chief Minister in 2013. Kharge is the quintessential Congressman. Siddaramaiah came in from the Janata Dal (Secular) to the Congress after creating the platform for the AHINDA, Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits.
And in the first ever expression of support for the leader of the Congress legislature party, Siddaramaiah beat Kharge in the oral submission by members. To be fair, Kharge never played the role of a factional leader. Siddaramaiah, too, has been fair to Kharge’s son, Priyank, an independent leader in his own right, by giving him a critical portfolio.
Modi went on to say to Kharge: “You may continue in this seat due to your loyalty to one family. But don’t insult Jagatguru Basaveshwara (the social reformer whose followers, the Lingayats, are the BJP’s primary vote bank), who practised democracy even in the 12th century.”
The battle then moved on to the social media platform, Twitter, with Siddaramaiah responding from the Congress with this tweet.
Wednesday’s Twitter war was, in some ways, a follow up of Modi’s massive public meeting in Bengaluru on Sunday last where he had pointed out instances of how Karnataka had not utilised funds for various projects. Mallikarjuna Kharge’s speech also received a response from the Prime Minister with this tweet.
To which the Karnataka Chief Minister fired his salvo right back.
Other young turks of the Karnataka Congress jumped right into the fray to take on the Prime Minister and help their Chief Minister out. Like Archan Gowda, a member of the Karnataka Congress unit, who tweeted this.
Youth Congress president of Karnataka, Rizwan Arshad too mocked the Prime Minister.
Priyank Kharge, who is the IT and tourism minister in Siddaramaiah’s ministry too joined the debate to launch a direct attack on the Prime Minister.
In another tweet, Priyank Kharge challenged the Prime Minister to agree to a discussion on the Gujarat model of development as against the Karnataka model.
While the Prime Minister attempted to drive home the point about the rift between two tall Congress leaders in Karnataka, the state Congress, including Siddaramaiah and Kharge’s son, Priyank Kharge, turned the tables on the Prime Minister instead, for avoiding issues concerning unemployment and the country’s economy.
Very clearly, the battle has just begun. And it is being fought both on the ground as well as on social media. The victor will be known in the month of May when the election process is completed.