Religion, politics and welfare: A tale of two manifestoes in Karnataka

While BJP has promised to implement Uniform Civil Code and bring in NRC, Congress has promised to ban Bajrang Dal and repeal ‘anti-people’ laws

karnataka rally
What will Karnataka vote for? File photo shows an election rally in the state. Image: Twitter

The two of the three main contenders in Karnataka – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, Janata Dal (S) being the third one – have come out with their respective manifestoes just a day apart from each other. With just 10 days left for the voting to be held for the Karnataka Assembly, it is interesting to see what the two parties have promised to offer the people of the state.

The BJP manifesto – ‘Praja Pranalike’ – was released on Monday by its national party president J P Nadda.

Also read: Karnataka polls: Cong releases manifesto; promises to repeal ‘anti-people’ laws passed by BJP

High on Hindutva

The main promises that caught the eye were aimed at Hindutva-supporting voters, the mainstay of the BJP — promise to implement the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and to bring in a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The BJP also made the UCC promise during elections in Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. It is a bit mystifying why NRC has been promised in Karnataka, which is not a border state.

Further to the delight of ‘Hindutva’ voters, the party has promised to form a committee “to grant complete autonomy of temple administration to devotees” and a look at “regulating local businesses around temples to create a sustainable temple economy”. In the past few months, especially after the hijab controversy broke out in the state, Hindutva groups have called for a ban on Muslims to set-up shops during temple fairs.

The manifesto — divided under six heads of Anna (food security), Abhaya (social welfare), Akshara (education), Aarogya (health), Abhivrudhhi (development) and Aadaaya (income) – has its share of welfare measures as well as ‘freebies’.

The freebies on offer

These include three free gas cylinders in a year, one each during Ugadi, Ganesh Chaturthi and Deepavali; ten lakh housing sites for siteless and homeless; A matching sum of up to Rs 10,000 on fixed deposits made by women of SC/ST families; Atal Aahara Kendra in every municipal ward in the state to provide affordable, quality and healthy food; and, half a litre of Nandini milk every day for families and 5 kg food grain kit every month for BPL families.

The Nandini milk comes amidst fears that state-run Karnataka Milk Federation’s Nandini dairy brand will be merged with Gujarat’s Amul. The opposition has made this a major poll issue charging that Amul’s entry would hurt Nandini’s interests.

The free cylinder offer is similar to what the BJP promised during the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Also read: Karnataka polls: BJP promises to implement Uniform Civil Code, NRC in manifesto

Congress gets aggressive

The Congress manifesto — ‘Sarva Janangada Shanthiya Thota’ (peaceful garden of all communities) – was released on Tuesday by party chief Mallikarjun Kharge.

The Congress manifesto too raised a controversial issue in its manifesto – equating banned Popular Front of India (PFI) with Sangh Parivar’s Bajrang Dal, the party said it would ban organisations that promote “enmity or hatred, whether among majority or minority communities”.

“We believe that law and Constitution is sacrosanct and cannot be violated by individuals and organisations like Bajrang Dal, PFI or others promoting enmity or hatred, whether among majority or minority communities,” the manifesto said, adding that if the party is voted to power in the state, it will take action as per law, including imposing a ban on them.

In September 2022, the centre had banned the PFI under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The Congress manifesto also promised to repeal, within a year of coming to power, “all unjust laws and other anti-people laws” passed by the BJP government in the state.

Also read: Karnataka polls: Congress taunts PM Modi with ‘CryPM’ campaign

Cong-promised freebies

The party’s manifesto gave five guarantees — Gruha Jyothi (200 units of free electricity to all), Gruha Lakshmi (Rs 2,000 per month to every woman head of the family), Anna Bhagya (10 kg of foodgrains of their choice to every person in a BPL family), Yuva Nidhi (Rs 3,000 every month for two years to unemployed graduates and Rs 1,500 every month as an allowance for unemployed diploma holders), and Shakti (free travel to all women throughout the state in regular state-run buses).

Kharge said that these promises will be implemented in the first cabinet meeting on the first day of government formation, calling it as the party’s ‘sixth guarantee’.

Nandini milk also figures in the Congress manifesto as the party knows that on this issue the BJP is on the backfoot. So, while the BJP promised free Nandini milk to BPL households, Congress has promised to boost milk production to 1.5 crore litres per day. Not only that, it announced zero-interest loans up to Rs 3 lakh to dairy farmers to buy cows and buffaloes, and credit cards with Rs 50,000 limit.

Similar to its ‘Annapoorna canteen’ promise in the 2018 manifesto, the BJP’s manifesto this time talks of ‘Atal Aahara Kendras’ in every municipal ward for “affordable, quality and hygienic food”.

The BJP’s Annapoora promise remains unfulfilled, even though these canteens were meant to replace the Indira Canteens set up during Congress rule in the state.

The BJP manifesto also promises to create a special wing in the state called ‘Karnataka State Wing against Religious Fundamentalism and Terror (K-SWIFT)’, thematic tourist destinations around Hindu pilgrim sites, and renovation of dilapidated temples at the cost of Rs 1,000 crore.

Also read:  Karnataka elections | BJP manifesto development-centric, says PM Modi

Other major assurances by the BJP include allocation equivalent to 6% of the Gross State Domestic Product to the education sector, constructing 10 lakh houses for the homeless;’ free annual master health check-up for senior citizens; a ‘State Capital Region’ for Bengaluru leading to “comprehensive city development strategy, cohesive transportation networks and cutting-edge digital integration”; and a Global Innovation Hub for the city, inspired by a Tel Aviv model.

‘Five guarantees’

Congress released manifesto with its five major guarantees of Rs 2000 per month to every woman head of a family, free bus passes for all women, Rs 3000 for graduates and Rs 1500 for diploma holders as unemployment monthly payment, 10 kilos of rice and 200 units of free power to households.The Shakti scheme aims to provide free travel to all women throughout the state in regular KSRTC/ BMTC buses and the Gruha Lakshmi scheme under which each woman head of the family will receive Rs 2,000.

Congress also promised in its manifesto to repeal all ‘unjust laws and anti-people’ laws passed by BJP government in Karnataka.

‘Ban on Bajrang Dal, PFI’

A day after BJP promised the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in its manifesto, the Congress promised action against individuals, organisations spreading hatred. Many of the promises made by the party are likely to stir controversy.

Also read: Karnataka elections is not about you: Rahul hits out at PM

Congress manifesto said it will take “decisive action” as per law including banning organisations like Bajrang Dal, the Popular Front of India and others.

“The Congress party is committed to taking firm and decisive action against individuals and organisations spreading hatred against communities on the grounds of caste and religion,” read the Congress manifesto. “We believe that law and Constitution are sacrosanct and cannot be violated by individuals and organisations like Bajrang Dal, PFI or others promoting enmity or hatred, whether among majority or minority communities,” it added.