On Sunday, Jairam Ramesh, a prominent member of the Congress party, commented that the BJP was using Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name to gain votes in the Karnataka Assembly polls, while the Congress had embraced the “vocal for local” slogan and was highlighting concerns that are specific to the state’s populace.
In an interview with PTI, Ramesh said Karnataka, after four years of the BJP rule, needs Vitamin-P in which the P stands for “performance” of the Congress and not “polarisation” of the BJP.
Using armed forces terminology, Ramesh said the Congress is not worried about the “carpet bombing” campaign strategy of Prime Minister Modi and other senior BJP leaders as it has enough “anti-aircraft guns” to deal with it.
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The more the carpet-bombing campaign the BJP indulges in, the more clearly it indicates its “despair and desperation”, the Congress general secretary in-charge communications said.
Ramesh, who is a star campaigner for the party, said the Karnataka polls were about the BJP’s “threats” versus Congress governance guarantees.
He claimed that the Congress would get a “clear majority” that would render “Operation Lotus” totally unnecessary.
Operation Lotus is the term used by opposition parties to describe what they call “poaching” of MLAs by the BJP to topple state governments.
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“Minimum dissidence in Cong”
Asked about reports of former chief minister Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Congress president D K Shivakumar looking to outdo each other for the post of CM, Ramesh said, “This time around, the dissidence in the Congress is at a minimum. There are only a few rebel independent candidates and many of them are withdrawing.”
“In any case, the dissidence in the Congress is nothing as compared with the dissidence in the BJP which has lost its former chief minister, deputy CM, members of the national executive and many other national, state and local level leaders,” Ramesh said.
He said five top Congress leaders – party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar – would probably cover the 224 constituencies among them during the campaign.
“So, I think we are presenting a united front and this I think is the impact of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Some people criticize the Bharat Jodo Yatra that it would not pay electoral dividends but I think the yatra is giving electoral dividends as it gave a sense of solidarity and a sense of purpose to the Congress,” he told PTI over the phone from Karnataka where he is on the campaign trail.
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Today the story of Karnataka politics is the “dissidence and disunity” in the BJP, not in the Congress, he stressed.
“Right now, everybody is focused on getting the Congress back to power. We are nor focussing on individuals. This is not a beauty contest for individuals, this is a choice between political parties, a choice between competing ideologies, a choice between competing visions for Karnataka’s future,” Ramesh said.
Noting that the Karnataka electorate is very wise and knows whom to vote at which level, the Congress leader pointed out that it was not a vote to elect the prime minister but a vote to install a government in the state.
“I think we have taken the PM’s slogan more seriously than he has himself – vocal for local,” Ramesh said.
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He said this time the Congress campaign has been very strategic and focussed on “vocal for local”.
“This is not a national election, it is an assembly election, and I think the BJP has tried to make the prime minister the issue. They are asking for votes in the name of Narendra Modi. What we have been saying is that you are electing MLAs, you are electing the party which will appoint a CM. This is for an engine in Bengaluru not an engine in Delhi,” Ramesh asserted.
This whole double engine argument of the BJP is “bogus”, particularly in Karnataka because 94 per cent of revenues generated for the state are its own or its share of central taxes which is constitutionally mandated, he said, adding that this is not a vote for a “double engine”.
“The BJPs double engine is a bogus one, it is an engine of garam hawa of economic growth, creating the illusion of economic growth, on one hand and the other engine of social polarization and divisive politics. The Congress is the only party that internalizes the double engine – the double engine of economic growth that is sustainable and equitable on the one hand, and the other engine of social harmony,” he said.
“Cong real double engine”
So, the Congress is the real double engine, Ramesh stressed.
On the number of seats, the Congress was likely to get, Ramesh said he did not wish to give a number but was confident of a clear majority that would render “Operation Lotus” totally unnecessary.
“In Chikkamagaluru district, where I am campaigning, we have only one assembly seat, but this time we are headed to get three or four out of a total of five seats,” Ramesh said.
He claimed that there is a “very strong current” in favour of the Congress and a widespread sentiment for change.
“I don’t agree with the assessment that it’s going to be a hung verdict. I think it is going to be a clear majority for the Congress. I think the type of campaigning the BJP is doing is just about polarization and harking back to divisive issues with which the people are fed up. You can’t do this over and over again,” he added.
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On Kharge’s “poisonous snake” remark, Ramesh said the party chief has clarified that remark, as well as the context in which it was made.
“Yatnal’s remark unacceptable”
“But what Mr. Basangouda Patil Yatnal said about former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was simply unacceptable. What do you make of the Union home minister (Amit Shah) coming and telling people that if you vote for the Congress, you will have communal riots. What do you make of the BJP chief coming and saying that if you vote for the Congress, the blessings of Mr. Modi are not going to be there,” he said.
The people who have dragged the campaign down to this level are Home Minister Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the prime minister himself, he alleged.
Criticising the BJP’s campaign, Ramesh said there are no local campaigners and the party is not raising any local issues.
“It is a 40 per cent commission government, there is no narrative to speak of, there are no outstanding programmes, no outstanding schemes. The BJP has lost a lot of tall Lingayat leaders in this environment to talk of Modi, Modi, Modi (is not going to work),” he added.
Voting will take place in the state on May 10 and the results will be out on May 13.
(With agency inputs)