By Saarthak Anand
With just a few months to go for assembly polls in the state of Karnataka, capital city Bengaluru is assuming unprecedented significance. While the Indira Canteen scheme has boosted Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s popularity in the city, recent floods have opened a window of opportunity for the opposition, with the CM being attacked from all quarters.
Success of Indira Canteens
Bengaluru, with twenty-eight Assembly seats, has a strong BJP presence. Siddaramaiah has attempted to woo this voter base with his “Bhagya” brand of populist schemes, targeted towards the urban poor. These include Anna Bhagya (free rice) and Ksheera Bhagya (free milk for students). The most prominent, however, is the recently launched ‘Indira Canteens’, which provides such hygienic food as idlis and rice dishes at prices as low as Rs. 5 and Rs. 10. Having completed three months of operation, the canteens are expected to be expanded to cover the entire city. Loosely modelled around Tamil Nadu’s Amma Canteens – a flagship scheme of former CM Jayalalithaa – the Indira canteens are aimed mostly at migrant workers in Bengaluru. Indian National Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi had inadvertently admitted the similarity in a Freudian slip. “Every citizen of Karnataka should feel he won’t go hungry. That is the vision of the Amma… Indira Canteen”, he had said at a rally in the city on 16 August.
There are, however, significant differences which may come in the way of the Indira Canteens achieving the success of such proportions. The Amma Canteens catered to nearly ten percent of Tamil Nadu’s population, and twenty percent of Chennai’s Below Poverty Line (BPL) citizens. Siddaramaiah’s scheme, launched in the fourth year of his five-year term, may be dismissed by some as a mere poll gimmick. It is currently limited to the state capital and is yet to cover the entire city. Politically speaking, the scheme would reap much better dividends were it extended to Karnataka’s less prosperous regions, and aimed towards the BPL population.
Floods have turned the political tide
While schemes to feed the poor are hardly ever met with passionate criticism, what has taken some of the sheen off the CM’s image is the recent flooding of Bengaluru. There have been ten deaths in the past forty days, accompanied by incessant traffic jams and washing away of the surfaces of roads. The situation has come as a shot in the arm for the opposition parties, who have sought to lay the blame at the CM’s door. BJP’s chief ministerial face B.S. Yeddyurappa has embarked on a citywide tour, launching a series of attacks on Siddaramaiah. “Visited rain-affected areas of Bengaluru. BBMP, BDA under Congress have ruined the capital city. Sh. @siddaramaiah has proved he is visionless”, he had tweeted. Both Yeddyurappa and Janata Dal(Secular) chief and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda have visited the kin of the flood casualties, providing cash compensation. The CM has suddenly found himself on the defensive. In response to the opposition’s attacks, he said “What about the shortcomings of the previous BJP government? I do not want to play politics over the dead.”
Uncertainty in Bengaluru
Politics is a game of perceptions. What the floods have done is create an anti-government perception in the city, where the Congress seemed to be placed strongly a couple of months back. At the same time, the Indira Canteens continue to enjoy a certain level of support. Indeed, other parties have wasted little time in replicating the government scheme, leading to a populist race. BJP announced that it would distribute free rice among those affected by the recent floods, while JD(S) Member of Legislative Council T.A. Shravana launched the privately funded Namma Appaji Devegowda Canteen as a tribute to the party supremo. Karnataka is among the last few states where Congress is in power and Siddaramaiah among its few remaining regional strongmen. BJP hopes to make a comeback in the first Southern state where it had been able to form a government. Bengaluru is becoming the centre of attention, and the political dynamics are shifting rapidly.
Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons
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