Bengaluru: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah on Thursday flagged off the Nava Karnataka Nirmana Parivarthana rally, a 75-day tour across Karnataka led by its state president B.S.Yeddyurappa, kicking off the party’s campaign for assembly elections due in 2018.
The rally, in which other senior state and central leaders will also participate, will start its journey from Bengaluru on Thursday and is looking to cover all 224 constituencies before returning to the capital city on 28 January.
“This parivarthana (transformation) rally is not to change the CM (chief minister), not to change the government, not to change the legislators. This is to change the state of Karnataka," Shah said, amid allegations of corruption and misgovernance. He said the aim is to change the plight of farmers and youth, and the law and order situation as well as disempowering the Lokayukta in the state, which he said had hit a new low under the Congress government.
The rally will also highlight what he called the shortcomings of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government that routed the BJP after its first stint in the state from 2008-2013, reducing its number of seats from 110 to just 40 seats in the 2013 elections.
The Karnataka assembly elections are crucial for the BJP as it looks to expand its presence in South Indian states. The polls are also important for 74-year-old former chief minister Yeddyurappa, who is seeking re-election and will lead the party into the elections.
The rally will also attempt to put behind the factionalism in top leadership that had weakened the attacks against Siddaramaiah, whose popularity has soared in recent months—mostly due to populist policies centered around food security.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who tore into the Congress party during his visit to the state on Sunday, is expected to be part of the event to be held on 28 January, when the 75-day rally returns to Bengaluru.
Though Yeddyurappa had claimed on Tuesday that over 300,000 people would participate in Thursday’s event, the rally managed to attract only around 25,000 people. The sight of empty chairs at the venue was conspicuous. Siddaramaiah said that the lukewarm response to the rally showed that the people were not with the BJP.
A rebel Congress member of the legislative assembly from Channapatna, about 60km from Bengaluru, and an independent MLA from Kudachi, P.Rajeev joined the BJP in Shah’s presence.
The party will have a convoy of vehicles led by a recreational vehicle (RV)—especially designed and built at a cost of around Rs90 lakh—equipped with facilities like a ‘war room’, TV viewing, resting area and toilets.
Yeddyurappa said at least three two-wheelers will make their way from each booth of the party to join large rallies, including the one to be held in Bengaluru.
However, the party has been denied permission to hold any such rally or pass through Kodagu district—about 250km from Bengaluru—that was listed on its original travel route as the rally falls just two days before Tipu (Sultan) Jayanti. The decision to observe Tipu Jayanti on 10 October (since 2015) has resulted in clashes—owing to claims that the 18th century ruler was anti-Hindu—between members of Hindu Right-wing groups and Muslim groups in regions like Dakshina Kannada and Kodagu. Both the regions are said to be communally sensitive.
Shah said Siddaramaiah and the Congress appeared more enthusiastic about celebrating Tipu Jayanti—to be held on 10 November—than Kannada Rajyotsava, Karnataka’s founding day celebrated on 1 November because of vote bank politics.
Hitting back, Siddaramaiah said the rally was not about parivarthana but an act of paschathapa (repentance) for the BJP and what he called its misdeeds, including pitting communities against each other and spreading hatred.