The Congress campaign’s sharp focus on local issues has been listed as one of the main reasons for the party’s victory in Karnataka, but the party also got a fillip from the dedicated and committed work of civil society organisations such as Eddelu Karnataka (Wake Up Karnataka) and Bahutva Karnataka (Pluralistic Karnataka).
Both these groups, which were driven by the work of committed volunteers, have no formal affiliation with the party but made voters aware of the failures of the incumbent BJP government by disseminating material through traditional as well as social media.
Among its outreach programmes, Eddelu Karnataka prepared a booklet of 25 pages titled “4 Years of BJP’s Rule: Disillusionment Due to Dead Promises”, which was widely shared. It also organised 75 conferences in different constituencies and released 80 videos highlighting the failures of the BJP government.
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Speaking to Frontline, Purushottam Bilimale, former holder of the Kannada chair at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Executive Committee member of Eddelu Karnataka, said: “We did not ask voters to vote for Congress or the Janata Dal (Secular), but made it clear during our awareness programmes that the BJP was the wrong party to vote for. In 70 critical constituencies where the margins of victory were slender in 2018, we ensured that religious minorities, including rich Muslims and women from conservative Muslim families, who often skipped voting, went out and voted.”
He added: “In nine constituencies, we ensured that weak candidates belonging to the JD(S) and the SDPI [Social Democratic Party of India] who would have not won but, by contesting, would cut the votes of the Congress candidate, withdrew their candidature.”
Bilimale also said that the group worked with the support of some 5,000 volunteers and at its peak, had built up a network to mimic the organised work of the BJP’s IT cell, with its messages reaching up to 3 lakh persons within a few hours.
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Bahutva Karnataka did not specifically state that voters should not vote for the BJP, but this was the underlying theme of its detailed report cards that analysed the performance of the BJP government across 15 sectors.
These sectors included agriculture, environment, labour, religious minorities, rural development, women’s rights, health care, and nutrition. “In most of these sectors, the BJP government had performed abysmally and we ensured that the reports were shared widely and received continuous media attention,” said Dr Sylvia Karpagam of Bahutva Karnataka.
She added that a core group of 25-30 volunteers worked on these report cards, including subject experts, translators, data collectors, designers, and social media coordinators.