Beyond homilies like ‘promote equity’ and ‘realise economic growth’, it isn’t clear what the components of the model are, and how it is distinct from others.

By invoking slogans like “Karnataka model of development”, chief minister Siddaramaiah has made a concerted effort to set the agenda for the upcoming assembly elections.

As the votes for state polls in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura were being counted, the hashtag at the top of Twitter’s trending chart for India was #NavaKarnataka2025.

It was, in fact, a promoted tweet by Siddaramaiah. The irony of a Congress chief minister promoting his government while his party was getting routed in polls elsewhere was not lost on most people. Critics also raised more serious questions on whether the state government was wasting taxpayers’ money for trending on Twitter.

The sponsored hashtag sought to promote the launch of a vision document by the government — ‘Nava Karnataka Vision 2025‘. This document, prepared after holding consultation workshops across all 30 districts of the state, lays out a seven-year governance strategy for Karnataka. It identifies growth priorities in 13 sectors and promises the provision of health, housing, food, education and jobs “for all” by 2025.

Interestingly, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to create a ‘New India’ by 2022, Siddaramaiah’s promise of building ‘Nava Karnataka’ by 2025 would not fall in his tenure, even if he won the upcoming polls.

The Karnataka model

The publicity around the launch of the vision document also included a promoted tweet by Siddaramaiah which said: “Since 2013, we have successfully scripted a unique Karnataka Model of Development based on Inclusion, Innovation & Enterprise. While we have come a long way, we know there is a lot more to do. Our journey now continues towards #NavaKarnataka2025.”

“Karnataka Model of Development” has now become one of Siddaramaiah’s favourite catchphrases. Over the last year, he has repeatedly invoked it. However, beyond homilies like “promote equity” and “realise economic growth”, it is not clear what the components of the Karnataka model are and how it is distinct from others.

One of the key policy thrusts of the vision document, as well as that of the government in the recent past, is affordable healthcare. Siddaramaiah recently launched Arogya Karnataka, which is touted as India’s first universal healthcare scheme, something that could steal the thunder of the Modi government’s nationwide health insurance programme.

The state government has also sought to regulate the private healthcare industry by passing the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (Amendment) Act, 2017. This act empowers the government to fix uniform rates for each class of treatment and restricts private hospitals from demanding advance payment for emergency treatment. The original version of the bill also included provisions for the imprisonment of doctors for negligence, but these were dropped after doctors from private hospitals went on a week-long strike.

Siddaramaiah’s focus has been to push his social justice agenda. Over the last five years, the state government has undertaken a whole host of welfare measures, with many of them targeted at marginalised groups like scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs), backward classes, religious minorities, women and sexual minorities. The most significant policy measure in this regard is the Karnataka Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilization of Financial Resources) Act, 2013. This act mandates a portion of the total budget allocation of the state to be earmarked for SCs and STs in proportion to their population.

While such welfare programmes have been criticised for being populist, Siddaramaiah would hope that it reaps electoral benefit from his core constituency, AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits).

Whether the “Karnataka model of development” is more bluster than reality is an open question. On most social development indices, Karnataka outperforms many of the northern states. But it does not come close to its southern counterparts like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Hence, it would be presumptuous to make Karnataka a “model” for other states to follow.

However, for highlighting the state’s achievements, Siddaramaiah has often pitched Karnataka against Gujarat. Karnataka has now overtaken Gujarat as the state attracting the highest amount of investment proposals. It is this combination of having strong social welfare programmes as well as high level of private investment that has allowed the government to project Karnataka as an alternative model.

Building a narrative

What Siddaramaiah is trying to do with slogans like “Karnataka model of development” is weave a positive narrative around his government and set the agenda for the elections. The protest against the imposition of Hindi, the unveiling of an official state flag, the measured support for separate religion status for Lingayats are all instances of the state government setting the terms of discussion. The BJP finds it difficult to take a clear stand on these issues, given its nationalist and Hindutva moorings.

Setting the agenda of the election is important for the government, since the opposition can capture the public imagination otherwise. Modi has employed a narrative around corruption to target the Siddaramaiah government by calling him “Seeda Rupaiya” and his administration a “10 per cent” government.

Denting Modi’s narrative on corruption is the fact that BJP has declared B.S. Yeddyurappa, who had gone to jail on corruption charges, as its CM candidate. Modi will hence be the primary mascot of the BJP in Karnataka.

While in the first four years of his government, Siddaramaiah had no narrative to offer other than championing AHINDA, in the last year he seems to have woken from his slumber and become more proactive.

Mathew Idiculla is a research consultant at the Centre for Law & Policy Research, Bengaluru.

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