The election manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in Karnataka also hold kernels of their possible strategies for the 2024 general elections, on two fronts.
The first is welfare delivery. The BJP’s path is a strategy it perfected in states such as Uttar Pradesh, of offering a food safety net in an attempt to build a new class of beneficiaries who identify the largesse not just with the State but also the party, specifically Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In Karnataka, too, it offered three free gas cylinders a year to below poverty line (BPL) families, in addition to half a litre of milk every day and five kg of millets. In contrast, the Congress sought to cast the net wider, promising 200 free units of electricity to all, cash endowment to women and young people, and free travel to women in State-run buses. This will no doubt rake up the debate over freebies again, but also points to structural changes where entitlements (not income generation schemes) appear to be the popular choice to soften the blow of economic hardships or joblessness.
The second is ideology. The BJP’s document was clear on pushing the party’s pet ideological projects, the uniform civil code and the national register of citizens, though the electoral return of these moves (beyond firing up its base) remains unclear. Though the party also played around with the reservation matrix before the elections – scrapping a quota for Muslims and redistributing it among the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, and internally dividing the Scheduled Caste quota – caste remained a more muted aspect of its poll promise. In contrast, the Congress pledged a radical plan to overhaul the state’s affirmative action framework, raising the quantum of quotas to 75%, thereby giving more to most communities that are electorally relevant, and even saying it will push to protect this move from legal challenges by putting it in the ninth schedule of the Constitution. Of course, in Karnataka, this strategy of bringing together the AHINDA (minorities, backwards and Dalits) is notoriously difficult given grassroots contradictions, and has not been successfully attempted since the 1980s. But it provides clues about the Opposition’s evolving strategy of pitting caste-based mobilisations against the BJP’s broader Hindutva umbrella. By pushing for a nationwide caste census, more caste-based proportional representation, and now radically upping the quota ceiling, the Congress is clearly hoping to upset the post-2014 political hegemony established by the BJP. If it works in Karnataka, expect more rumblings nationally. If it doesn’t, it’s back to the drawing board.
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