The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is looking beyond the complex caste combinations of Karnataka, at least in the coastal belt of the state, if its recent strategies are anything to go by.
Political analysts say that the BJP's attempt to circumvent caste combinations--at least in some parts of the state--is to not waste efforts to reach out to minorities, instead get all the fragmented Hindu voter support is part of to back the saffron party and isolate the Congress ahead of next years polls.
"If Congress can use 'casteism or social engineering' to polarise, why should we not use 'religion' seems to be the narrative that the BJP is building. As I look at it, 2018 is likely to be the most polarised election that Karnataka has seen so far. Simply because the BJP has no other issues to raise. Attempts are being made to polarise people on the lines of religion not caste anymore," said Premchand Palety, chief executive at C Fore, a multidisciplinary research organisation that carries out election surveys and reports.
The organisation had predicted a big win for the Congress in next years polls, according to a pre-poll survey it published last month.
On Thursday, BJP called for the banning of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Popular Front of India (PFI) among other organisations by highlighting the recent spate of attacks on Sangh Parivar workers. The BJP's naming the organisations, analysts say, is to brand anyone taking or seeking their support seem anti-Hindu.
A senior police official on Thursday said that BJP leaders at the rally called senior Congress leader B.Ramanath Rai as 'Ramzan Rai' to back its claims that he was encouraging radical elements against right wing organisations.
After being pulled up by BJP national president Amit Shah for its lack of enthusiasm in carrying out protests and rallies in July, the youth wing of the party planned its ambitious Mangaluru Chalo bike rally, which senior leaders of the state backed. Missing from the action were union ministers like Ananth Kumar, D V Sadananda Gowda and the recently inducted Anantkumar Hegde, indicating that the centre did not want to be seen being part of the rally, analysts say.
"The central leadership is perhaps waiting and watching. For now, the state leaders are taking the agenda forward. The anger against extreme right in the aftermath of Gauri Lankesh's murder could have played a part too," Palety added.
Despite a massive presence of RSS in the coastal city, the BJP were unable to get more than a few thousand people to join the protest. Some even hinting that the RSS and other organisations deliberately did not participate, offering the Congress a better chance.
The Congress has played its better than its opposition, at least so far, by backing emotive issues like pro-Kannada, state flag and backing anti-Hindi imposition among others. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, who stormed to power with his AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes, and Dalits) support based in 2013, has also done better to consolidate the backward classes votes and continues to hold on to the controversial caste census results which is likely to challenge the Lingayat-Vokkaliga dominant communities narrative.
Outmaneuvered, the BJP is now leaving nothing to chance and making no bones about its Hindutva strategy, which could make next years polls one of the most polarised elections in the state's history.