The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s election manifesto for Karnataka is a marriage of contrasts. Released on Monday, the document makes a raft of promises tied to social welfare benefits – three free gas cylinders in the months of Ugadi, Ganesh festival and Diwali to families below the poverty line (BPL), affordable food centres, half a litre of milk to BPL card holders, one million housing units for homeless people, and free health check-ups for elderly people, among others – and key pieces of the party’s ideological puzzle, including the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), a national register of citizens (NRC) for Karnataka and a special police unit to tackle religious fundamentalism.
The manifesto makes it clear that after the consternation and protests sparked by the candidates list (due to the BJP’s desire to effect a large-scale generational shift in the state unit and move away from the traditional reliance on local satraps and entrenched money power), the party is looking to steady the ship by building the broadest possible coalition and playing to its strengths – welfare delivery, social engineering and polarisation – to undercut the possible erosion of support due to its biggest perceived weakness in the state, grassroots corruption. This is why issues such as support for the poor finds place with more hot-button topics such as NRC or UCC, despite some lack of clarity on how these steps will be implemented (for example, Karnataka doesn’t have any international borders, so what would an NRC measure?).
Nonetheless, this doesn’t change the fact that the appeal and popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the key factor to pull the BJP through in the final stretch of the campaign where it is facing a twin challenge – one from its political opponents, the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), and another from the political tradition of the state that has not returned an incumbent to power in two decades.