Notwithstanding the calls against politicising an anti-terror operation, the air strikes in Balakot is arguably one of the biggest political issues in the country ahead of a crucial election. Both the government and the Opposition have been using it as a campaign issue since the Indian Air Force said it bombed a Jaish-e-Muhammed camp in Pakistan on 26 February, in retaliation for the JeM-claimed Pulwama terror attack.
From praising Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in his home state to attacking the Opposition for questioning the strikes’ effectiveness, PM Modi has using the strikes in his campaign speeches.
But in Karnataka, his strategy has been different. Prime Minister Modi has addressed two rallies in the state so far – one before the air strikes and one after. In both speeches, his main argument has been the alleged difference between the Congress and the JD(S).
Even though his second rally came just eight days after the strikes, Balakot found no mention in his speech. Why would this be?
Two reasons are cited for PM Modi sticking to the anti-coalition argument in Karnataka; firstly, hyper-nationalism has rarely been a decisive election issue down south. Secondly, highlighting any chinks in the armour of the coalition in Karnataka would support his case against the Mahagathbandhan at the national level, said analysts.
Balakot Irrelevant in Karnataka?
PM Modi addressed his first political rally in Karnataka on 10 February in Hubballi-Dharwad in North Karnataka. The emphasis of his speech remained the “growing differences” between alliance partners Congress and JD(S). Making this his reference point, Modi said the Opposition wants to impose a similar “Majboor Sarkar” (helpless government) at the Centre.
"“Karnataka’s CM has become a punching bag. Everyone is challenging him and it’s difficult to figure out who’s the in charge of the state. They want to impose the same ‘Majboor’ model on the entire country.”" - PM Modi in Hubballi-Dharwad
Modi’s second rally in Karnataka on 6 March – just eight days after the Balakot strikes when the issue was still roiling national media – was much the same. The only reference to terrorism he made during the speech was a fleeting word to show that a stable government has worked in New Delhi.
"“After 30 years the country got a majority government and you’ve seen how it has worked … They are trying to remove Modi, but Modi is trying to end terrorism and poverty.”" - PM Modi in Kalburgi
The entire rest of the speech was once again focused on the coalition government. This time, he called CM Kumaraswamy a “remote-controlled chief minister”.
"“Kumaraswamy is remote-controlled by others. This coalition government is against farmers and they would never forgive this regime. Kumaraswamy is not getting any cooperation from his coalition partner.”" - PM Modi in Kalburgi
Why Has the PM Ditched Hyper-Nationalism?
According to political analysts, hyper nationalism has rarely influenced voters in Karnataka. Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University told The Quint that traditionally, local politics has been a decisive factor in Karnataka.
"“Hyper nationalism works mostly in the Hindi belt and nationalism is perceived differently here.”" - Sandeep Shastri
The difference between South and North when it comes to hyper-nationalism is attributed to the south Indian states being much further away from international borders and the constant threat of terrorism. Although there have been terror attacks in South India, security hasn’t been the biggest poll issue.
According to Shastri, even if Balakot and its aftermath finds some resonance in urban pockets of the state, the claims of the central government being aggressive in teaching Pakistan a lesson or the ‘an eye for an eye’ argument would not make any electoral impact in the state.
Talking about Modi’s decision to attack the coalition, A Narayana, political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University, said a coalition government is perceived as a blueprint for the Opposition alliance. Even though the BJP was not able to break this alliance, to prove that the coalition government is on shaky ground is important for the BJP. “Since Modi is taking on an Opposition alliance, it is important to showcase the difference in the coalition in Karnataka,” he said.
Shastri added that in both speeches, the JD(S) has been projected as a victim in an attempt to show regional partners that Congress would dominate in an alliance.
Although Modi has not brought the issue of terrorism into his Karnataka campaign, the two experts believe that the trend could change when it comes to the urban constituencies. Even during the assembly elections in Karnataka, Modi who had started his campaign Gujarat with promise of development, eventually spoke of a Pakistani attempt to assassinate him, pointed out Shastri.
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