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The general perception is that the “unsolicited” praise lends credence to speculation on a BJP-JD(S) pact, but political observers go further and point to the shifts happening on the ground. “Modi was not casual or just emotional when he spoke about Deve Gowda, he had done his homework properly and was playing a deft political game. Modi is polarising Vokkaliga votes against Congress,” said a political strategist associated with BJP.
Read also: Would have quit Lok Sabha but for PM Modi, Deve Gowda says
For BJP, a good performance in the Vokkaliga heartland is crucial to ramp up its numbers in the state. “Of the 89 constituencies in south Karnataka, Vokkaligas are the gamechangers in 70-75 constituencies. A majority of the Vokkaligas are angry with chief minister Siddaramaiah and have identified with JD(S) in a big way in this region. Modi’s praise of Gowda further consolidates Vokkaligas behind JD(S) and weakens Congress,” political commentator S Mahadevaprakash said.
Read also: Karnataka Election 2018 Campaign tracker
In the bargain, BJP hopes to gain ground in around 20 constituencies in south Karnataka where JD(S) candidates are weak. “If Modi continues to appreciate Gowda, it could result in Vokkaligas developing a soft corner for Modi and BJP in such constituencies,” Prakash said, adding: “There are several constituencies in Bengaluru where Vokkaligas play an important role and Modi’s move could help them divert their votes to BJP.” Moreover, Lingayats in Vokkaligadominated constituencies are expected to vote against Congress wherever JD(S) has a strong presence.
Another motive attributed to Modi is to swing the undecided voters. Sources in BJP said: “Past poll statistics show that nearly 16% of voters are undecided (invisible) on which party to vote. Modi is attempting to drum up support from these voters by playing the righteous politician card, by highlighting how a 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi humiliated octogenarian Gowda.”
But Gowda and his partymen are aware of the collateral damage being caused to the party. “Muslims and other minorities will drift away from JD(S). In fact, this is what chief minister Siddaramaiah was aiming for, given that Muslims form the second largest community (around 75 lakh) in the state. The Muslim community would prefer to go with Congress if it becomes clearer that JD(S) has colluded with BJP.” Lower-rung JDS leaders claim that Modi praised Gowda to break their votebank, comprising Muslims.
However, Congress is skeptical. “JD(S) is extremely opportunistic. They have been out of power for nearly 10 years and they are desperate to return, even if it means they have to go with BJP. The Modi-Amit Shah duo is working towards ensuring that Congress does not return to power in Karnataka and, thereby, choke the funding channel for the party during 2019 Lok Sabha polls. JD(S) is only helping Modi. Otherwise, Modi has no reason to praise Gowda,” said a Congress leader.