The Telegraph
Friday , April 4 , 2014
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Ananth SOS to Modi

Bangalore, April 3: Ananth Kumar is desperately seeking Narendra Modi. All because a political newcomer has been giving the five-time MP sleepless nights.

Modi is set to campaign in the IT city on April 8 following an SOS from Kumar to help him contain the challenge from Nandan Nilekani, the Infosys co-founder whom the Congress has fielded in Bangalore South.

Sources said Kumar, who has been showing signs of desperation as the state inches closer to the April 17 poll, was looking for some Modi magic.

While Kumar did his best to get Modi to hold a meeting in the heart of Bangalore South, his constituency, the party wants its prime ministerial nominee to address a rally at a point where all the four Lok Sabha constituencies in Bangalore meet.

That point is Bommanahalli, near the Electronics City and close to the tip of all the four seats in Bangalore — South, North, Central and Rural.

“We thought it’s best to counter Nilekani’s propaganda machine at a spot near the Electronics City,” said a BJP source. “It’s not just about getting Modi here. It’s more about Modi working his magic to influence voters,” he said.

An official statement from the BJP office later announced that Modi would address rallies in the state for three days, on April 7, 13 and 15. All the 28 constituencies in Karnataka vote on April 17.

Modi will reach Bangalore on April 8 after stops in Koppal and Bagalkote (both in north Karnataka) and Mysore. The subsequent visits would cover yet-to-be-finalised areas.

Of the four seats in Bangalore, Kumar’s constituency is shaping up for what is likely to be the toughest fight.

Nilekani, the man behind the Aadhaar card which the Supreme Court has de-linked from government welfare schemes, appears to have shaken the BJP. The party had at first taken him lightly but Kumar’s utterances show things have panned out differently.

“What’s his contribution to the people? He is an elitist with massive wealth,” are just some of the daily rants of Kumar, who has been using everything in his arsenal to neutralise the threat from the former Infosys CEO.

A four-digit figure — Rs 7,700 crore — has become an oft-repeated number. That’s the worth of assets, including 80 per cent in Infosys shares, that Nilekani has declared.

Another favourite weapon is the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Aadhaar card. “Aadhaar has given a national ID to illegal Bangladeshis,” Kumar keeps repeating. “How do you trust this man (Nilekani)?”

The five-time MP from this BJP stronghold has another reason to be worried. As a national general secretary of his party, he spent a lot of time in Delhi and was rarely seen here.

It prompted a jibe from Nilekani. “Wherever I go,” he said yesterday, “I hear this ‘absentee MP’ remark.”

Kumar had won the 2009 election by 37,612 votes. His nearest rival, Krishna Byre Gowda of the Congress, led in three of the eight Assembly segments that form Bangalore South.

When Gowda opted out this time and proposed Nilekani’s name, BJP insiders had thought it would be a cakewalk. Today, they are a worried lot.

When no blemish could be dug up on the “migrant”, it was Nilekani’s lack of command over Kannada that became the target.

A Konkani, but born and raised in Bangalore, Nilekani was shouted down when he spoke in English at a recent public debate. The BJP workers did not relent even after Kumar’s pleas to calm down.

State Congress chief G. Parameshwar was confident that Nilekani would win. “Our inputs give a clear win to Nilekani, but we know the BJP would go to any extent to sully its rivals,” he said.

The BJP’s desperation may also be about the quality of support Nilekani has attracted, including writer-actor Girish Karnad, a fellow Konkani, and eminent Kannada writer K. Marulasidappa.

At a road show in Bangalore South today, Karnad dubbed Modi “an evil man”.

“We need people like Nandan and a party like the Congress,” he added.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will attend a public meeting in Bangalore on April 7. Party chief Sonia Gandhi will attend another the next day.

Parameshwar said the visits had nothing to do with Modi’s arrival. “It’s just a coincidence.”