BENGALURU: Was the promise to ban Bajrang Dal in the Karnataka Congress manifesto ahead of the elections aimed at consolidation of Muslim votes? Multiple Congress leaders including those who were in the manifesto drafting committee confirmed that the proposal was inserted at the last minute so that the BJP makes it a major campaign issue. The Congress in its manifesto for elections to the 224-member Assembly in Karnataka said it was committed to taking firm and decisive action against individuals and organizations spreading hatred amongst communities on grounds of caste and religion.
The Congress said, “We believe that law and Constitution is sacrosanct and cannot be violated by individuals and organizations like Bajrang Dal, PFI (Popular Front of India) or others promoting enmity or hatred, whether among majority or minority communities. We will take decisive action as per law including imposing a ban on such organisations”.
The BJP in no time latched onto the proposal in the manifesto released on May 2. The same afternoon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his election speech at Hospet, the district headquarters town of Vijayanagara, dubbed the promise as one similar to locking up Lord Hanuman . He also made a point to raise slogans ‘Jai Bajrangbali’ at the beginning and end of his election speeches in the state thereafter.
According to a member of the manifesto drafting committee, the line on Bajrang Dal was inserted deliberately, which yielded electoral dividends. Muslims accounted for nearly 13 percent of the voters in the polls. “We had drafted two sets of manifestos. One was given to top Congress leaders in the first week of April itself and second one was prepared a week after the first one,” a Congress leader told PTI.
Finally, one final copy was prepared incorporating all the suggestions and it was about to be sent for printing late night May 1. “Just before the manifesto was sent for printing, a key Congress general secretary actively involved in the party’s strategy for the elections got The line on banning Bajrang Dal was inserted. It was deliberate,” another Congress office-bearer said.
“This leader might have calculated that the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva narrative in the Karnataka election will consolidate the Muslim votes in favor of Congress and his strategy worked,” he added. As ‘Bajrangbali’ (Hanuman) became a big talking point in the election, some Congress manifesto committee members faced the heat from some of their own leaders who feared that the move might back-fire.
“I was especially nervous because if anything had gone wrong, the entire blame would have fallen on our team,” said a manifesto committee member. “As expected, the BJP did not miss the opportunity offered on the platter by the Congress and went gung-ho,” a Congress leader said. The Congress scored a thumping win with 135 seats, while the BJP and JD(S) secured 66 and 19 seats, respectively.
In the 2018 elections, the Congress garnered a vote-share of 38.04 per cent, followed by the BJP (36.22 per cent) and the JD(S) (18.36 per cent). In the just-concluded polls, the Congress vote share zoomed to 42.88 per cent; That of JD(S) dipped to 13.29 per cent and BJP’s vote share dropped just 0.22 percentage points to 36 per cent.
According to political analysts, there was a consolidation of Muslim votes in favor of the Congress. “Muslims solidly voted for the Congress. Overwhelming section of the minority community, may be 80 per cent or more, voted for the Congress,” said another political observer. There was a significant shift of Muslim votes from JD(S) to Congress, another political observer said, noting that the JD(S) seat share was reduced from 37 in 2018 to just 19 this time, and vote share dropped by more than five percentage.
“Polarisation is a double-edged sword. While the BJP voters remained intact with their party, those votes which were scattered between the Congress and the JD(S) ‘polarised’ in our favour,” a Congress leader said.