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As Congress Dons Saffron to Take on BJP in 'Hindutva Lab' Mangalore, Development Takes a Back Seat

After Independence, Mangalore was a strong base for the Congress party but it all changed in the early 1990s and Mangalore was soon divided on communal lines.

D P Satish | News18dp_satish

Updated:April 10, 2019, 11:21 AM IST
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As Congress Dons Saffron to Take on BJP in 'Hindutva Lab' Mangalore, Development Takes a Back Seat
Picture for representation only. (Image: PTI)

Mangalore (Karnataka): Mangalore, the port city and headquarters of Dakshina Kannada district, votes on April 18 in the second phase of polling for Lok Sabha elections but the mood on the ground betrays the energy and hectic campaigning that elections usually bring with them.

The BJP has won seven Lok Sabha elections from here since 1991 and two-time sitting MP Nalin Kumar Kateel seems to be ahead in the race but his campaign lacks enthusiasm. This hardly comes as a surprise though as hard-core BJP supporters here are seeking votes in the name of ‘Hindutva’ and Prime Minister Narendra Modi — they don’t even mention the name of the party candidate.

A BJP supporter, Jagadish, told News18 that as an MP, Kateel’s contribution was “a big zero and he would lose badly if the election was fought on the development plank”. “Our MP has done nothing for the constituency. We feel that he has wasted 10 years as an MP. We seek votes in the name of ‘Hindutva’ and Modi. If we raise local issues, he stands no chance,” Jagadish said.

The culturally diverse, rich, enterprising, industrialised and commercial hub Mangalore is known as BJP’s “Hindutva Lab” in the South since the early 1990s. Home to four religions — Hinduism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity — birth place of five major national banks, the land of Udupi hotels and famous religious centres, Mangalore has witnessed several communal clashes since LK Advani’s Rath Yatra rolled into the costal district almost 30 years ago.

After Independence, Mangalore was a strong base for the Congress party. Indira Gandhi’s bank nationalisation and the then Karnataka chief minister D Devaraj Urs’ land reforms made the region a Congress fortress. The backward class Billavas (toddy tappers) and Mogaveeras (fishermen) were once die-hard fans of the Congress and its policies. It all changed in the early 1990s and Mangalore was soon divided on communal lines.

“Hindutva” now sells here and the BJP is banking on it solely in this election. The Congress, which has lost seven consecutive elections to the BJP, is now countering the saffron party with its own brand of ‘Hindutva’. The party has fielded 34-year-old youth Congress leader Mithun M Rai, hoping to wrest the seat back after 28 years. Wearing saffron shawls, Mithun and other Congress leaders are criss-crossing the constituency, claiming that they are the real custodians of Hinduism. They allege that the BJP is fooling the people using hard-core ‘Hindutva’, while the Congress is promoting a peaceful ‘Hindutva’.

The district in-charge minister and lone Congress MLA UT Khadar, a Muslim, is wearing a saffron shawl along with other party colleagues. Ivan D’Souza, Congress MLC from Mangalore, is giving him a company in the same shade.

Mithun Rai also runs a Gaushala near Bantwal in the same constituency, with his followers claiming he is a Hindu in the true sense. Sajeeva Suvarna, a local Congress worker, said people had realised after 28 years that the BJP had taken them for a ride in the name of ‘Hindutva’ and this time, the Congress could emerge victorious.

“The BJP has done nothing for the district. All development happened during the Congress regime. Local BJP MPs and MLAs are busy with communal politics. It has now reached a saturation point. To expose their brand of fake “Hindutva”, we are using real ‘Hindutva’,” Suvarna said.

The undivided Dakshina Kannada district is home to four nationalised banks – Canara, Corporation, Vijaya and Syndicate Banks. While Canara Bank is a Konkani founded bank, Corporation Bank is a Beary Muslim founded bank. The Syndicate bank is again a Konkani founded bank. Vijaya Bank is a Bunt founded bank. Earlier the dominant castes and religions used to compete with each other in business, making Mangalore a powerful brand name across India.

The communal politics of the last 30 years has caused a big damage to that brand, but not many are complaining on the ground. On April 1, Vijaya Bank was merged with loss-making Bank of Baroda, triggering protests in and around Mangalore. The Bunt caste, which founded the bank, is upset about the loss of identity and legacy. Some blame the BJP for the same and the Congress is now using the merger as an election issue. After a long time, the Congress has also fielded a Bunt against BJP’s Bunt MP and some caste leaders argue that giving chance to a young Bunt can make some difference to politics.

However, some still express confidence in the BJP and Modi. Yogesh Achary, a youth from Guruvayanakere, said despite no visible work by BJP or local MP, they still prefer Modi because of ‘Hindutva’. “It is true that our MP has done no work. Under normal circumstances he would have lost the deposit. But we are for ‘Hindutva’. The divisions are deep. The Hindu-Muslim unity is not possible. Since the Muslims vote for Congress, we vote for the BJP,” he said.

There are also some fence sitters. Ramesh Upadhya, a Mangalore resident, said he would wait till the last day and decide. “Both the candidates are Bunts. Both are Hindus. I want to vote for a better person this time,” he said.

The RSS has taken charge of BJP’s campaign and its volunteers are doing a door to door canvassing. Some of them are visiting homes in the night or early morning beat the oppressive summer heat of Karnataka coast.

The RSS is supremely confident of eight straight wins from Mangalore. Nakul Shenoy, an RSS worker, said ‘Hindutva’ had a solid backing in coastal districts and Congress would bite the dust once again. “What is wrong if we promote our religion? Is it a crime? ‘Hindutva’ is supreme and people vote for that,” he said.

Since coalition partner JDS is a fringe force in Dakshina Kannada, the Congress is fighting a lone battle. Instead of talking about Rahul Gandhi, Modi and the state government, the Congress is deliberately focusing on local issues and “soft Hindutva”.

Mithun Rai, meanwhile, defends the use of saffron shawl, saying the BJP has no monopoly or copyright over the colour. “Saffron is a symbol of peace and harmony. It has a great significance in Hinduism. BJP has misused it for political gains. They are interested in ‘Hindutva’ only for the votes. Congress is committed to the welfare of all castes and religions. Let the BJP face me on issues. They won’t. Because they have done zero development,” he said.

Modi is scheduled to address an election rally in Mangalore and the saffron cadres expect a Modi Suntaragali (storm) to hit Karnataka coast after that.

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