To win in Karnataka, both the BJP and the Congress need to put up a good show in the communally-charged coastal region.
Hindutva laboratory, Rome of the East. This is how many term coastal Karnataka as. Over the years, the region has become a polarising factor and in the bargain has turned into the communal cauldron of Karnataka.
There are 38 assembly seats up for grabs in this coastal region and both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are locked in a contest. It is often said that Karnataka is a gateway to the south for BJP. The same could be said about the coastal region as it is the gateway to Karnataka for the BJP.
History would show that the coastal area was not always a communally-charged region. The Muslims in the coastal region and also the neighbouring Kasargod in Kerala were traditionally traders. In the 1970s, there was a huge migration wave that took place where scores of Muslim traders left for the Arabian Gulf. The money then began flowing in, in big numbers and it was sometime at this point that the divide began to surface.
The coastal region, which is dominated by Christians and Muslims, always sided with the Congress. In 1980, the Jan Sangh ruled the Udupi Municipal Corporation and it had come to power with the support of a large number of Hindu votes. In 1991, the BJP won the Mangalore constituency in the Lok Sabha elections, following which a major change was witnessed in the region. The Muslims and Christians strongly backed the Congress while the Hindus moved towards the BJP.
While the BJP has retained the Mangalore seat since 1991, there were significant changes that were witnessed in the late 1990s. The Congress realised that it was losing out on a bastion, which once belonged to it. The BJP accused the Congress of indulging in extreme appeasement. The BJP capitalised on this as it felt that the Hindus were growing insecure and this led to widespread polarisation.
The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 was also a game changer. The communal clashes that the region witnessed had created plenty of insecurity among all communities. The Hindus began backing the BJP fully and the results were seen in 1994. In that election, the BJP bagged 17 of the 38 seats.
In today’s context, if one were to look at the region, it is extremely communal with both the Congress and BJP trading charges at each other. The Congress is mindful of the fact that it comes to power when it sweeps the coastal region. In 2013, the Congress put up an impressive performance in the region winning 21 seats, which incidentally is its best performance in 19 years. The Congress had bagged the region with the slogan of protecting the minorities and dealing with communal forces with an iron hand.
This was also to do with the fact that the BJP was a broken unit back then and incidents such as the pub attack had not gone down too well with many.
The Anger Quotient
If one looks at the Karnataka campaign this year, the BJP began its first push from the coastal region. The BJP’s Anant Kumar Hegde set the tone for the campaign by raising issues such as Hindu deaths under the state Congress government. The tone and tenor of this campaign is clearly indicative as to what works in this region.
The campaigns have also seen leaders go at a high-decibel pitch using words such as jihad, murder of Hindus, cow slaughter and jihadi terror. Further the BJP also draws from the anger amongst many after the Siddaramaiah government decided to celebrate Tipu Jayanti. The Mysore ruler is considered to be a tyrant by many people, especially those in Kodagu who accuse of large-scale massacres and conversions.
In addition to this, there is also the Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) factor which has been the favourite bashing point for the BJP. The BJP has repeatedly sought for a ban on the PFI, accusing it of killing Hindu activists. While the BJP has accused the Congress of doing nothing about the deaths of 23 Hindu activists, the ruling Congress on the other hand has said that these statistics are misleading. Ramalinga Reddy of the Congress says that these statistics are misleading. Out of the 23, nine were related to communal violence. Moreover, one Ashok Poojary who the BJP says was killed is still alive, he said.
Rise In Communal incidents
The Muslims in the region feel that a lot has changed after 1992. There is widespread fear among both the Hindus and Muslims in the region and this has proven to be a boon for any political party which capitalises on the fear. The Muslims say that they have been misled in the name of community while the Hindus have been roped in on the insecurity factor.
Sharan Pumpwell of the Bajrang Dal says that the Hindus and Muslims have been clashing with each other for the past 20 years over two issues – cow slaughter and harassment of women. He says that as long as Hindu women are harassed and cow slaughter is not stopped, the Bajrang Dal would be at the forefront of the agitation.
The coastal region, which boasts of a high literacy rate and educational institutions, has today been termed as a communally-charged region. However, communal clashes are nothing new to this region. In 1971, when a Congress leader Ismail was murdered in Kalladka, violence erupted in the region. Observers say that this incident had become a turning point and clashes have erupted every now and then. They also say that there was very little that the successive governments did to contain the situation.
If one takes a look at the per capita income in this region of Dakshina Kannada (DK) it goes on to show that it has grown largely on its own. Many accuse successive governments of only playing the communal card ahead of elections and not really focusing on jobs, development or growth. Despite this DK remains a prosperous and a highly literate region. In 2016, DK was second only to Bangalore Urban in terms of per capita income. DK stood at Rs 218,580 when compared to Rs 271,387 for Bangalore urban. The prosperity has grown heavily thanks to remittance of Gulf money by the non-resident Indians (NRIs) which is an indication of self-growth.
Over the rise in communal incidents, the BJP and Congress have always blamed each other. Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka, the member of the RSS national committee, who is a very influential leader in Karnataka states that the Congress is giving a different colour to the communal clashes. These clashes are directly funded from neighbouring Kerala. He had told HT that, “Muslims get easy money and have access to radical ideology from their Kerala factions. Hindus are not the initiators of these clashes. Our people have been hitherto silent; now they have realised they have to defend themselves as no law or police is out to protect them.” The Congress, however, rubbishes this and says that the officers are doing their best on such issues.
Back in 2015, a rights group had come up with data suggesting that Mangalore had witnessed 139 incidents of communal violence since January 2015. The data was compiled from police records and media reports by Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of the People’s Union for Civil Liberty, one of the country’s oldest human rights organisations.
How The Coastal Region Votes
For both the Congress and the BJP the coast is extremely crucial. The BJP would back heavily on the Hindu population, which accounts for 68.99 per cent. The Congress would on the other hand bank on the Muslim and Christian population which make up for 13.15 and 17.40 per cent respectively.
When one speaks in terms of the coast, one also has to take into account Chickmagalur as it has a similar voting pattern. Mangalore, Udupi, Uttara Kannada and Chickmagalur have over the years voted in a similar fashion.
The vote base for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections has always been a loyal one. However, in the case of the assembly elections, it has been different. In the assembly elections one has always witnessed a switch in the voting pattern with people going either with the Congress or BJP. While in 2008, the region backed the BJP, in 2013, the voters gave a thumbs up for the Congress. If this pattern continues then it appears that it is the BJP’s chance this year to rule the coast.