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In Karnataka it's Modi's hypernationalism vs Siddaramaiah's strong assertion of regional identity: Top scribe

By Our Representative
As Karnataka goes to polls on May 12, the view has gone strong that it is going to be a battle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi's populism and mascular hypernationalism, on one hand, and Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah's "sub-nationalism — a strong assertion of regional identity and state pride", on the other.
On campaign trail in Karnataka, top journalist Barkha Dutt, writing in "Washington Post" ("Can the son of a cattle grazer stop Modi in India’s South?"), even as seeking to paint a glowing profile of Siddaramaiah, has suggested that the chief minister has proved to be a perfect match for Modi by seeking to offer what she calls "a fascinating case study of what a non-elite, subaltern liberal can look like."
Introducing Siddaramaiah, 69, about the same age as that of Modi, to the Western world through the top American paper, Dutt says, "Until a few months ago, most Indians outside the southern state of Karnataka would not have been familiar with the name of Siddaramaiah."
One who "grew up in a community of poor shepherds and did not attend formal school until he was about 10 years old", Siddaramaiah, says Dutt, has today acquired the centrestage by projecting his "tough childhood", mirroring that of Modi, who grew up as the son of a tea seller. Thus, Siddaramaiah, says Dutt, told her that the free rice scheme he introduced in his state is "rooted in personal memories of going hungry as a kid."
And, asserts Dutt, at a time when Modi has been using his "extraordinary rise from poverty to power as a weapon to taunt the Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi and the pedigree he inherited as the great-grandson of the country’s first prime minister", with Siddaramaiah this card is simply not working.
Pointing towards what makes Siddaramaiah interesting is the way he has been using "regional identity and state pride" to oppose Modi, Dutt says, "He has advocated for a separate state flag and personally ordered that signs in Hindi on city subways be taken down and replaced with those in the region’s own language — Kannada."
Recalling that before Modi became prime minister, he governed Gujarat, where he won election after election by framing the fight in terms of Gujarati “asmita” (pride), Dutt underlines, "Siddaramaiah has attempted to make this election about Kannada pride. But the political similarities between the two men largely end there."
Pointing towards how Siddaramaiah has effectively neutralized the "fear of offending majority Hindu sentiments" by reminding BJP hardliners that he had "actually reared cattle and cleaned dung", unlike Adityanath, Dutt says, with his libertarian streak, he is "hoping that he stands as an effective counter to the intrusiveness of far-right Hindu groups."
"In a state where rationalists who question religion have been murdered, Siddaramaiah has not hesitated to describe himself as one", says Dutt, adding, at the same time, he has allowed himself to be "photographed bowing before pontiffs or walking about with a lemon gifted to him a by a voter who believed it warded off evil", calling it just an example of "mere courtesy rather than conviction."

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