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Assembly polls 2023: Can BJP think big in Karnataka?

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To most political observers, BJP’s lack of expected electoral successes in the state so far can be attributed to the fact that it has adopted, by and large, the Congress style politics which in public perception is associated with caste considerations, allegations of corruption, and incrementalism (as opposed to quantum jump) in the matter of development.

The difference between the two parties has probably been observed by these political observers with regard to their approaches towards Hindutva. If Congress has been perceived to bear attitude of antipathy, the BJP has been considered to have sympathy for it. This shows up from time to time on issues such as ‘Tipu Jayanti’, ‘Hijab’, ‘Halal’ and so on. According to widely held public perception, BJP has no doubt taken stance against such divisive issues from time to time, but not shown sufficient understanding of the fact that these are mere symptoms of a root cause viz., policy of appeasement that has been deeply ingrained in the structure of governance.

Clearly, only with such differentiation, BJP has not been able to make a distinctly positive and superior mark in voters psyche in its favour. The lack of consistency in its electoral performance is a pointer in this regard. It is high time the party must take a quantum leap in terms of governance quality and performance standards, and shed the slow and tardy path of incremental progress and marginal growth. Interestingly, the key to achieving such transformation is hidden in the core tenets of Hindutva, by whatever name one may refer to it. What are they? An indicative list follows:

Eradication of corruption, zero tolerance of ‘appeasement’, rising above caste politics, absolute commitment to public  service, relentless pursuit of development, upliftment of poor and downtrodden across caste and creed.

Hindutva calls for determination, will, hard work and willingness to subsume individual interests to collective good. These are both arduous and challenging, but not impossible either. the state of UP led by Yogi government has demonstrated that this model is practicable and it works. The results of Polls in that state this year showed how the collective satisfaction of common voters gave BJP led NDA a convincing victory against heavy odds, including especially a hostile and conspiring media moving heaven and earth to prevent Yogi’s return to power!

Yogi model of governance is also being talked about across India these days. The election verdict of Uttarakhand, a neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh in favour of BJP, may also arguably be said to have been influenced by the success of Yogi model in UP, to an extent.

Karnataka BJP can probably make important differences to the state’s future by following similar principles. The party should blast away the cobwebs of corruption, casteism, and incrementalism from the political culture of the state and start working for a massive and rapid transformation of the state economically, socially and politically based on the principles discussed earlier. Not only it would be able make the people of the state happy and contented in the process but also contribute positively to the prospect of the party’s electoral prospects in its neighbouring states. Large sections of people in those states are visibly unhappy and looking for alternatives to dynastic and communist rules.

Is it too late for BJP to take the plunge in Karnataka? No. There is a full year still ahead to the polls. Obviously, implementing these principles and commensurate strategies are bound to be long drawn out, but starting them will send the messages of the priorities and the intent of the party to the people of the state. A ten point action programme can be suggested here as a starting point, some of which may, depending on experience, even be incorporated in the polls manifesto going forward.

While it would be best for the state BJP to constitute a think tank comprising experts from the civil society (educationists, thinkers, industrialists, scientists, environmentalist and others) to decide upon an action program, here are 10 points agenda which can go a long way in quickly changing public perception about the governance quality.

1. Drastically cutting down the implementation time of various ongoing infra projects across the state by bringing in more manpower, expert help, and monitoring. For example, the schedule of completing metro rail work in Phase 2  & Phase 3 in the state capital may be advanced by a few months. The new CM of the state recently asked officials to complete the Phase 2 by 2024 i.e., one year ahead of the schedule. If similar spirit is injected in Phase 3 Metro and even other infra projects it is bound to make significant electoral difference;;

2. Massive programmes need be launched to build and repair roads across the state and that on war footing. Building or repairs of major roads need to be done with world class material and technology by reputed internationally reputed companies. Simultaneously, drainage system issue needs to be addressed as waterlogging also causes damage to roads in monsoon. Holistic approach and planning are needed.Tendency to assign work to favourite contractors must be avoided. As regards resources, financial and otherwise, the state can of course rely on the ministry of housing & urban affairs as well as ministry of riad transport & highways of the centre for generous assistance;

3. Mega solid waste management projects may be launched across big cities and towns, particularly in the state capital using world class equipment,  technology, experts and through training of local operators. In November last year there was a media report that the European Union and Bengaluru will work together on solid waste management project. Such initiatives need to be aggressively pursued. This will clear all these cities of garbage littered here and there creating very positive public perception quickly;

4. A mega solution need be thought of for addressing drinking water shortage in Bengaluru and dozens of other cities and towns (causing severe ground water depletion) and also supplying irrigation water in scanty rainfall/ draught-prone areas in north Karnataka districts like Belagavi & others. If Gujarat has been able to comprehensively address the drinking water, irrigation, flood-control, power supply and wildlife needs of 3 neighbouring states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra and MP, besides its own through the massive Sardar Sarovar Dam project, Karnataka can also certainly think big and get help from the centre to resolve its perennial problem of water shortage. To its advantage, it has huge water resources in the form of Netravathi and Sharavati rivers which originate and run their full course within the state;

5. As urban areas are expanding fast in the state, the government can simultaneously undertake tree plantation exercise on a massive scale under expert guidance. As per media report, the scale of tree plantation has been affected by lower budgetary allocation. If true, it is a matter of concern and needs immediate attention. With so many IT and biotech companies it should not be difficult to secure their participation in such endeavour in a big way. The govt can also involve them in restoring numerous stagnated and polluted water bodies across the state, especially in Bengaluru on war footing;

6. The civil aviation ministry has been spreading a huge number of new airports across the country most of them being greenfield projects. Bengaluru being the IT capital richly deserves the second airport. This demand is genuine and old and can’t wait. Petty interests of investors in lands around the present airport KGIA must not be allowed to block this important thing. It can change domestic and international perception about the ruling regime overnight;

7. There are vast numbers of residential apartments without OC, especially in the state capital. They house a considerable section of voters and most of them are victims of promoters’ malpractices. This problem needs to be solved once and for all pragmatically and if necessary, through regularisation by imposing fines. A government scheme viz., akrama sakrama‘ was started in 2013 but its progress has been tardy. Legal issue is reported to be amongst reasons for that. Still lakhs of apartments / houses across the state await regularisation. If the scheme is made legally fool-proof, implemented proactively and vigorously the ruling party is likely to earn goodwill of large chunk of voters. Going forward, no sale of flat or apartment may be allowed to be registered without the OC;

8. Attempts must be made to implement the welfare schemes for the poor at frantic speed in AITINT style [‘as if there is no tomorrow’]. For example, recently there was a media report of the government programme of building 5 lakh houses for the poor under PMAY. If a good part of it is completed before the polls date by working on mission mode, it can be a huge positive for the ruling regime. The same spirit is called for numerous other welfare schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, Nal se Jal, etc;

9. There is urgent need to remove the scope of corruption from the scope of governance, especially in the places of interface between government machineries and the public. This may affect petty interests of sections of politicians and babus, but it can work magically in changing public perception about the party in a positive way. AAP, for example, used it as a strategy in Delhi and got unexpectedly good results in terms of votes. It has also started claiming in curse of its Gujarat election campaign about its new ministry in Punjab having ended corruption in 10 days. Whether or not this is a fact, it is influencing public perception with media support. Its scheme of making the whole process of driving license renewal on line was also hyped nationally by the media. Karnataka being the IT capital has the wherewithal to harness technology to reduce public-babudom interface which needs to be leveraged in very large measure;

10. Last but not the least, the ruling regime needs to be extremely agile and firm in enforcing law and order. Procrastination and tendency to leave even routine law and order issues to the judiciary need to be shed forthwith.

Obviously, most of these tasks will be spread over a period of time to implement as said earlier. Probably it may be a good idea to form a high-powered task force at the apex level monitored by the Chief Minister and the task force should start these multi-dimensional programmes with zeal and commitment. Time is of essence and BJP as a party has to work hard in the left-over months to rise above competition.However, if the party makes a beginning in a systematic way while taking people of the state as partner, good days are bound to herald for both the people of the state and the party. Of course it is obvious before taking a plunge the leadership must have conviction that the new strategy will work!

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