"Hinduism is a lifeline and a rich tradition that cannot flow in the veins of those who justify killing cows and eat beef." Thus began UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's address to a crowd of over 4,000 people in a packed outdoor venue at Vijayanagar in Bangalore on Sunday.
Adityanath, who is visiting the state for the second time after the launch of BJP's 75-day Parivartan Yatra on 2 November, has become the face of the party's election campaigning after its successful run at the recent Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections.
Dressed in his usual saffron robes, Adityanath took a jibe at Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's remark in a speech on Saturday that he is a Hindu and "Hindutva is not (just) BJP's asset." Adityanath broke into laughter, and said, "Seeing the power of Hinduism and our power, others have been forced to declare the same."
He had previously addressed a crowd at Hubballi on 20 December, which also saw state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa raking up the Mahadayi river dispute. A bandh was called by farmer groups in the districts of North Karnataka a week later.
Sunday's event won over the crowd with its details: the playing of shlokas when Adityanath entered, pictures of a flooded Bangalore, of garbage strewn on roads, and a collage of Siddaramaiah sleeping at various events, all splashed over the screen on stage. The sequence reflected their focus on an urban vote bank.
>Look at the change Yogi brought in UP, says BS Yeddyurappa
It was hard to miss the importance given to the saffron-clad chief minister during the rally. At one point, the crowd, consisting of traders and many BJP youth members, chanted the name of Yogi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi alternatively. Sometimes, both sounded the name.
BJP leaders on the dais included former Karnataka chief ministers BS Yeddyurappa and Sadananda Gowda, and HRD minister Prakash Javadekar.
While the crowd cheered and clapped for Yogi Adityanath, Yeddyurappa clearly did not get the same welcome. The bigwigs not only remembered Modi in their speeches, but also sang praises of Adityanath's 10-month tenure in Uttar Pradesh.
Yeddyurappa himself chose to throw light on the UP chief minister's achievements and refrained from talking of his own work in Karnataka. He said that Uttar Pradesh had been turned from an unsafe state to a state where cows, youngsters and women " all feel safe. "Adityanath has brought in legislations that save cows from cow-killers and beef-eaters, built teams to protect women from roadside romeos and is ensuring that youngsters get full support to form startups. Has Siddaramaiah done all this?" he asked. To which the crowd shouted "Modi Modi" and "Yogi Yogi".
Prakash Javadekar also took potshots at the current chief minister by making the crowd chant - "Smart PM - Modi, slow-mo CM - Siddaramaiah."
Yeddyurappa, on the other hand, compared politicians to car gears. He said the top gear was shared by Modi and Yogi, neutral gear by Manmohan Singh, and the reverse gear was controlled by Siddaramaiah. When someone in the crowd chanted "Top gear - Yeddyurappa", he was shut down by others who sang "Yogi-Modi" alternatively.
The crowd's impatience to listen to Yogi was recognised when Sadananda Gowda gestured at them, asking them to calm down. Most leaders had to cut short their speeches.
>'Karnataka an ATM machine no more'
While explaining why a BJP government would be better for the state, Adityanath said that Bangalore had achieved the tag of India's 'Silicon Valley'; but for it to remain one in the coming years, it needed the support of the Centre. "It is the Centre that is making the policies which will benefit and give impetus to Digital India. For better growth, we need the same government in the state and the Centre," he said.
Accusing the Congress of only taking from Karnataka and not giving it back, Yogi said, "For the Congress, Karnataka is merely an ATM, and it has been using the state in this manner for many years. Only you can put a stop to this."
The rally saw BJP leaders talking about the party's achievements in other states and the fact that they control most of the state governments in the country.
The sentiment was echoed by those in the crowd. Ram Bopaiah, a shopkeeper from Doddaballapur, who had come with ten others from his village, stated confidently, "BJP-rajya nishchita. Ramrajya nischita."
When asked whether they believed the BJP would help their district, his friend Mahesh said, "They are everywhere. They have to be here too. Only then will we grow."
For Anneshwari, an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker from Ramnagar taluk, it was Yogi's clothes that brought belief. "He is like a priest. A priest can never lie,"she said. She went on to add that "Yogiji is right. Congress does want to divide us on caste, but the BJP wants to bring us all together like the Hindus we are."
While the UP chief minister said he had a connection with Karnataka as it was the birthplace of Hanuman, "who helped Lord Ram find Sita and directed him in the right way", he had a special message for Karnataka: "Let Hanuman direct you too to walk in the right direction. Do not be sidelined by those who do not follow the path laid by him."