Mind your language when in the South, Mr Amit Shah

BJP’s Karnataka Assembly election campaign is akin to watching dubbed Hindi ads on regional TV channels

As a native Tamil speaker, I often cringe at ads scripted in Hindi or English but forcibly dubbed into Tamil. The words seem out of place. The nuance of the regional language and the context for their intended recipients goes missing. The BJP’s poll campaign for assembly elections in Karnataka has a similar feel to it. So far, the election campaign has a distinct 'dubbed in Kannada' feel, the original having been made for Hindi-speaking voters elsewhere.

Whether it is Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Yogi Adityanath's appearance as a star campaigner for the BJP in the southern state or his desire to hand out certificates of Hinduness, there is a feeling that the BJP just doesn't get the local market.

Or take even party president Amit Shah's reported tongue lashings, presumably delivered in Hindi and translated into Kannada for lax BJP leaders, during the two days he spent in the state earlier this month. Perhaps his words were meant as a warning to those in the party yet to swear by the 23-point formula or the famed booth-management sutra. For those unaware of Shah-speak, this translates simply as 'how to do a UP 2017 in Karnataka 2018'.

But this pales in comparison to what the BJP's chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa has taken to saying in an apparent effort to please the 'central leadership'. He might as well have said 'high command' instead -- a phrase and indeed a way of life borrowed from the Congress, where the Delhi-based Gandhi family decides whether someone is worthy of being conferred power and responsibility.

Asked what was it that drove him to undertake his ongoing 'Parivarthana Yatra' across the state – his desire to defeat the Congress or become the CM once again, Mr Yeddyurappa told the Times of India on January 11, 2018: “Neither. My biggest driving force is to prove the faith which both Shah and (Narendra) Modi have placed in me. Nowhere ... has the BJP named its CM candidate in the last 19 polls. Karnataka is the exception.”

How can a leader, whose decision to quit the BJP and fight the 2013 Karnataka polls independently, remould himself into a recipient of the 'central leadership's' benevolence? His decision had cost the BJP dearly, and was the chief reason for the Congress’ return to power with a full majority in the last election. True, the scale of Modi's 2014 victory across India, and Karnataka especially, where it won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha constituency seats, was staggering. Still, it is difficult not to think of Yeddyurappa's capitulation as the new North Indian domination.

This may not go down well in a state where just a few months ago Hindi signages in Bengaluru’s metro stations were blackened by pro-Kannada groups. Moreover, the Congress has not been coy in insinuating that the BJP is faring poorly on the pro-Kannada barometer. The latest assault in this category has come on the Mahadayi river water dispute issue, which has pitted the BJP-ruled Goa against the Congress in Karnataka.

In any case, Yeddyurappa's words don't just sound like a dubbed-in-Kannada version of a Hindi ad usually mouthed by grateful Congressmen. They resemble dialogues of cult Telugu blockbusters dubbed into Hindi for 24-hour movie channels. Films such as Chiranjeevi’s Indra: The Tiger have unexpectedly stumbled into a new genre of action-comedy – the comedy in them, of course, coming from the dubbed Hindi dialogues.

Will the BJP be able to win Karnataka in the manner that it won in UP in 2017? Or will its culturally mixed-up campaign, blending the Shah-Modi brand of Hindutva or majoritarian assertion, and their trademark development rhetoric perfected election after election since 2014 come up against an invisible blow from the South of the Vindhyas?

Signs are that the BJP is pushing the Karnataka unit of the party to adopt a non-native political lexicon. Someone should tell the BJP that dubbed ads and movies are entertaining and sometimes inadvertently funny, but this is no guarantee that audiences take them seriously.

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