If the Congress in Gujarat had a Siddaramaiah at its helm, if he was their face against the BJP’s heavyweights, maybe the Congress – all five of its leaders lost their seats - would have nibbled away a little more at the BJP’s shockingly low haul of 99!
This man thinks on his feet! He’s a worthy adversary to the BJP president Amit Shah who turned his sharp all-seeing gaze on Karnataka, and found Mr Siddaramaiah’s Achilles heel – the Mahadayi waters. A water sharing dispute that if resolved would assuage the agrarian distress in the parched and arid north, that in Gujarat was certainly, the single biggest reason for the BJP’s woefully poor results in the Prime Minister’s home state. Except, and it may be early days yet and way too premature to take a call on this, the chief minister is demonstrably battle-ready, thinking on his feet in quickly calling the BJP’s bluff.
Within a day of the canny campaign strategist Amit Shah closing the books on Gujarat, he turned his attention to Karnataka, summoning not just the BJP hot shots from the state, but also, intriguingly, the Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, and announcing after the meet that the BJP’s two leaders would see to it that the waters of the Mahadayi would flow into the Malaprabha and solve not just the drinking water problems that have bedeviled Belagavi and other towns in the Mumbai-Karnataka, but the water woes of the agriculturists of that area.
And that may have been the first mis-step that gave Siddaramaiah the quick opening he needed. First, the CM said that the BJP’s party chief Mr. Shah and the opposition leader in the state – that would be former chief minister Mr. B.S. Yeddyurappa – had “no locus standi” to hold a meeting with the Goa chief minister Manohar Parikkar, with the implication being that it should be he, Siddaramaiah, elected to office and picked by his party to head the government. who should be holding a meeting with his Goa counterpart and not BSY, who is an opposition leader and holds no office.
Shortly thereafter, came the fresh BJP riposte, courtesy Mr Shah, who had BSY announce at a rally teeming with upset farmers that he would ensure that the Mahadayi waters would be shared between Goa and Karnataka by the end of the month! Mr Parrikar followed it up with an invitation to hold talks on the matter.
Except Parrikar sent the invitation - where he said he was willing to back up the water sharing deal - to Mr Yeddyurappa! Not Mr Siddaramaiah.! To which Mr Siddaramaiah, playing the role of the aggrieved to perfection said he had swallowed his pride, despite Mr Parrikar’s insult and would be happy to meet him, and that all Parrikar had to do was call, and he would be there…”at a time and a date of his choice.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous…Someone – no, let’s make that everyone from Mr Shah to BSY to Mr Parrikar and the CM forgot to factor in, that the farmers’ distress could easily turn to anger, and playing politics over the Mahadayi is akin to playing with fire. The CM has his fallback position of course – that he was doing everything he can to help the farmers but the water dispute tribunal which wanted both parties – the Congress government in Karnataka and the BJP in Goa - and the greens who object to the environmental hazards posed by changing river flows, had to take the final call. It was not in his hands. He had tried, but the BJP governments, in Goa and at the centre mouthed the platitudes and did nothing.
Now, for anyone watching the manner in which the pieces have been moved on the ‘separate religion’ status for Lingayat-Veerashaiva chessboard, you can see the strategy, fine-tuned and oh so similar. This plan too, bears the hallmark of Siddaramaiah. Trying to break the monolithic Lingayat-Veerashaiva vote bank that is the BJP’s raison d’etre in the state was something that the Congress long knew was the only path to re-election. And it was the BJP, which when it split into the BSY-led KJP and saw Sreeramulu hive away the rest showed the way. Break the Lingayat votebank and the Congress, if it consolidated its own Dalit, OBC, minorities anmd offcousrse the Kurubas – to whom Siddaramaiah has promised a Scheduled Tribes status – would be in with a chance.
In a deft move, the CM has set up an experts panel that will send its recommendations to the Minority Cell, which again, will take a call on whether the Lingayats should get such a status.
One can see that the Chief Minister has to be one step ahead of the BJP if he must beat anti-incumbency. His inner circle believes that BSY is no pushover but increasingly, his Parivarthana rallies across the state have been poorly attended, his speeches seemed repetitive and failed to enthuse. The BSY clique is also looking over its shoulder, wary of the rise of the fiery demagogue from the coastal districts, Ananth Kumar Hegde who could eclipse BSY’s own position by fanning the fires in Honnavar and Uttara Kannada, that would help raise his profile as the party consolidates its Hindu vote in an already deeply communally polarized district.
Siddaramaiah is well aware that the smallest of incidents could blow up his hitherto unblemished record of good governance.
The CM is also aware that the JD(S), which aspires to play the role of kingmaker, comes to life just before the polls. Again, Siddu’s pre-poll strategy is to limit the JD(S) to Old Mysore and see that the JD(S) attempts to widen its footprint falls short, while inveigling the best and the brightest from the Gowda party – like Zameer Ahmed - to his side of the battlelines in the next few weeks when every manner of sop and ‘bhagyas’ will rain on the populace. 24 hour power. Better roads. An end to noise pollutuion. Better connectivity. No more traffic jams. Aargh, that’s my bucket list
Just a word of caution, Mr Chief Minister. There are 28 seats up for grabs in the city of Bengaluru, which has always been seen as the BJP’s backyard. The Chief Minister believes he can win 18 of these seats.
But any more of this White-topping (it should renamed ‘the Road Rage Trigger) and the shoddy black topping in and around our homes, that were ‘repaired’ barely a fortnight ago, and the crazy construction that keeps us on the road for hours, and there’ll be questions on whether Mission Bengaluru can actually be a reality....