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Karnataka: Bommai Government Rattled by 'PayCM' Campaign, BJP Vows To Retaliate

PayCm campaign has upset senior leadership of Karnataka BJP, which has decided to hit back at the Congress.

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It has been a week since the Congress kick-started the PayCM campaign, and in Karnataka, particularly in Bengaluru, the campaign has irked the ruling BJP ahead of polls in May 2023.

As far as campaigns go, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) has organised Vaccinate Karnataka, Mekedaatu Paadayaatre, Freedom March, and Brashtachara BJP Sarkara over the last two years.

“But nothing seems to have worked like PayCM campaign for us,” says a senior leader of the Congress in the state. 

With the Congress coming up with the poster war which seems to have influenced the electorate, the BJP too has planned on hitting back hard.

Sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told The Quint that though the party wishes to get back at the Congress for using the chief minister’s photograph tagged to a QR code, the PayCM campaign has actually made them uncomfortable and rattled.

The Quint spoke to senior leadership of both the parties to assess the campaign wars between the Congress and BJP, as the state is preparing for an election year to choose a new government in the next eight months.

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‘PayCM’ Upsets Bommai and BJP in Karnataka

Hitting out at the Congress for its campaign, National General Secretary of the BJP Arun Singh said that the designing of the QR code was an insult to the sitting chief minister, whom he called ‘common man’s CM.’

Speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, the senior BJP leader said, “The campaign reflects the small mindset of the Congress. The Opposition is stooping to a new low by going after a chief minister who is working for farmers and underprivileged across the state.”

However, the BJP’s response to the campaign has been lukewarm. As over 100 Congress legislators marched the streets of Bengaluru pasting 'PayCM' posters, with the face of Basavaraj Bommai on it, the governing BJP restored to weak defence.

While Minister K Sudhakar tried to paint the campaign as casteist, alleging that the Congress was targeting the Lingayat community to which Bommai belongs, other BJP leaders asserted that the Congress regime was corrupt, while terming the nature of the campaign as ‘evil.’

A source in the BJP told The Quint that the 'PayCM' campaign has, however, bothered the senior leadership in the party. Asserting that they still haven’t lost ground, the BJP leader said, “The 'PayCM' campaign has actually rattled state’s leadership. We have the support of the Centre, but they too are worried about the chief minister being targeted every now and then.”

Meanwhile, Basavaraj Bommai has claimed that none of the allegations against him and his colleagues Sudhakar, Shivram Hebbar, Dr CN Ashwathnarayan, Jaggesh, Ravi Subramanya and BY Vijayendra, were true. Deflecting from the campaign that's bothering them in the state, the BJP claimed the Congress was at the verge of collapse in Rajasthan, like it fell apart in Punjab and Goa.

“Rahul Gandhi is traveling across the country, while his party members are fighting against each other. Karnataka is no different. Very soon, we will know how wide the rift between DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah is,” added Arun Singh in his exchange with reporters in Bengaluru. 

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Karnataka BJP Vows to Hit Back Strong, Says PayCM is ‘Pay Congress Madam’

In response to the Congress campaign against Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, the BJP released its own set of posters to counter the Opposition. The saffron party which was a step behind, compiled a list of scams that allegedly took place under the Congress in Karnataka and released it as a booklet. 

Speaking to The Quint, BJP spokesperson and former MLC Ganesh Karnik  said, “We did not want to stoop to their level. But, if this is the language they want to use, we are ready for it. They will get it nice and proper,” reacting to the “success of PayCM” campaign launched by the Congress. 

“We all know about the scams that happened during the UPA regime. Going by what the Congress has done all these years, 'PayCM' stands for 'Pay Congress Madam.' On the contrary in the last three years, our government has worked for the people. All their allegations are baseless. This is nothing but irresponsible behaviour by the Opposition,” added the BJP spokesperson.

Bommai-led BJP government also detained three and arrested five people belonging to the Congress, who were allegedly involved in pasting PayCM posters in Bengaluru on 22 September 2022. While, the KPCC president termed the detention as abuse of power, the government maintained that it was merely following the law. 

“This is the standard operating procedure. When they have nothing, they bring out the caste card. We are raising the corruption issues, they divert it to caste, we talk about unemployment and the BJP deflects the issue to Jhatka vs Halal meat. Whenever there is talk about economic stagnation, they raise Azaan issue and turn the environment into something communal,” said Priyank Kharge in response to BJP’s attempt to whitewash their alleged corruption charges.

On the contrary, the BJP remained defiant and claimed that the Congress campaign was a self goal as it raised issues of corruption. It further added that it was too soon for the Opposition to claim victory as the ‘ghosts’ of corruption continue to haunt United Progressive Alliance under Sonia Gandhi.

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Congress Claims Success as 'PayCM' Campaign Takes Multiple Forms

The Congress under the leadership of DK Shivakumar has intensified its campaign against Basavaraj Bommai led BJP government in Karnataka over alleged  charges of corruption. During the time of second lockdown due to COVID-19, the main Opposition party launched 'Vaccinate Karnataka' campaign and highlighted mismanagement in healthcare.

A few months later in February 2022, the party kickstarted another campaign Mekedatu Padayaatra and finally Freedom March in August, as the country celebrated 75 years of Independence. 

Speaking to The Quint, senior Congress leader Priyank Kharge said, “We have done multiple issue-based campaigns. But, the fulcrum of our movements have been to address widespread corruption by the BJP in all these aspects. Particularly after the growing accusations by contractors in the state, we wanted to reach out to people who have been affected by 40% commission that the BJP has been demanding for work to be done.”

A senior legislator of the Congress party, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also revealed to The Quint that the 'PayCM' campaign was envisioned by a group of young technocrats and consultants in Bengaluru. According to the source, the consultants belong to a company called Mindshare Analytics, the company Congress has roped in to help the party's 2023 election campaign. 

Apart from developing a designated website – 40percentsarkara.com – to register complaints and report corruption, the Karnataka Congress on the advice of the private political consultancy came up a with a creative poster showing a QR code which comprises a pixelated image of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and the logo PayCM, styled after PayTM’s logo, and a tagline “40% accepted here.”

As per KPCC’s communications head Priyank Kharge, the 'PayCM' campaign has been the most impactful as compared to other campaigns organised by the Congress. 

“We have received 1,77,662 complaints so far on the website. Most of it was done after people scanned the QR code and raised issues that they were facing either in their gram panchayats or in their respective towns. Today, we do not own the campaign anymore as people have taken it over. They are creating videos, memes, posters, and other effective means of communication to bring about a cultural and political change.”
Priyank Kharge, Communication Head KPCC and MLA of Chittapur

Posters with QR Code specifically targeted ministers and legislators with allegations of corruption against them. A photograph of former Minister Eshwarappa was used to talk about contractors' scam, image of Minister Ashwanthnarayan was used to reach out to people affected by the PSI scam and Sudhakar’s snap was used to call attention to scams related to COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, several netizens sympathetic to the Congress and those affected by the BJP’s alleged mismanagement also took to the internet to create videos and memes targeting not just the chief minister Basavaraj Bommai and his cabinet members, but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi – with the poster PayPM. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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