Karnataka: Sonia Succeeds, Modi Fails!

The sweeping victory of Congress in Karnataka assembly polls has certainly turned tables against the BJP in more ways than one. BJP had apparently expected that its campaign-strategy, a preparatory exercise for coming parliamentary elections, will help it win in Karnataka. The key aspect of this strategy was projecting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a star-campaigner. Modi did try his best. He even tried convincing voters about his “secular” image. If BJP had won in Karnataka, from its angle, the stage would have been set for presenting Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. To a degree, BJP’s victory would also have probably silenced its allies, who had expressed their opposition to accepting Modi as a prime ministerial candidate of BJP and its alliance (National Democratic Alliance).

BJP’s political calculations have proved dismally wrong for the party and of course for Modi.

As BJP deliberates on whether Modi-factor is proving politically damaging for the party, attention must be paid to what helped Congress gain in Karnataka.  Some credit must be given to the revolutionary change in the style of campaigning adopted by Congress High Command.  Sonia Gandhi displayed a greater aggressive tone in her anti-BJP campaign in Karnataka than ever before. While there was nothing surprising about the lady heading Congress campaign in Karnataka or the content of her speeches, the difference in her tone and expressions stood out. Her speeches were not marked by any passive or gentle tone. She passionately attacked BJP for having betrayed the people’s mandate and asked people to vote for a change.

The lady has seldom been seen on camera and on stage, while addressing rallies, with big smiles and also varying expressions on her face. She is known to have projected a solemn look, with at times only half-a-smile bordering her lips. The expression has usually remained the same, whatever be the content of her address. This scenario changed totally for the Karnataka assembly polls. The manner in which Sonia delivered her speeches in Karnataka indicated that she was going overboard to personally reach out to the people and convince them, facially, verbally as well as politically. Blaming BJP government for having served only its “narrow and selfish political ends,” Sonia pointed out that industries were no longer competing to invest in Karnataka. They were leaving Karnataka because of corruption, government interference and infrastructure issues, she said. Committing her party to bring political stability back to Karnataka, Sonia also promised to restore the state’s image as a “bright state” of India. “Congress will ensure that  Karnataka thrives and prospers,” she said.

Sonia’s Karnataka-campaign may be viewed as strategically motivated and designed for several reasons. The tremendous change in her style of campaign clearly reflected that the lady was more conscious than before about her images flashing across the country and the world through the television screen, newspapers and the Internet. Her objective was to leave a positive impact and also to appear optimistic, through her smiles, about the prospects of Congress in the Karnataka assembly polls.

The fervour in her tone and smile on her face, from her angle, apparently could prove to be more effective than saying the same without substantial emotional appeal. As the election results prove, her campaign-style succeeded.

A point made by Sonia, during her speech at Chikamagalur, also indicated that special attention was paid for striking at and connecting a personal chemistry between herself and the audience. She reminded the voters of having voted for her mother-in-law in a by-election from Chikamagalur in 1978, which helped Indira Gandhi revive her political fortunes and assume office again as Prime Minister. Please note the personal emphasis laid in her words, “We can never forget and will never forget that Chikmagalur adopted my mother-in-law Indira Gandhi as your own sister. Thirty-five years ago, the people of Chikmagalur lent Indiraji a helping hand when she needed it most.”

The time taken out by Sonia on 27 April to share dais with 105-year-old Siddaganda Math head Sri Shivakumar Swami and participate in his birthday celebrations had its own political significance. This religious leader has a vast following among the Lingayat community in Karnataka, which has not had good relations with Congress since 1989. It has instead supported the BJP. Sonia did not just share dais with him but greeted him with folded hands and bowed her head before the elderly leader with a smile. The lady is rarely seen with her head bowed before any leader. Rather than remaining seated, Sonia stood up and greeted him with this posture. This posture probably played its part in helping Congress win.  

BJP may have fared better without seeking Modi’s help in campaigning. Even if Modi states a million times that he is a “secular” person, the secular Indian voter is least likely to be convinced by him. BJP’s campaign-strategy worked against it. Congress won because of the negative impact of the BJP’s strategy and the positive response evoked by the revolutionary change in Sonia’s style of campaign!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2013 on page no. 11

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