The coastal belt has been a traditional support base for the BJP, even though the saffron party suffered a heavy loss here at the hands of the Congress in 2013 assembly elections.
In Dakshina Kannada, the BJP lost seven out of eight Assembly segments to the Congress. In Udipi too, the party could win just one out of five seats. Such was the rejection for the Hindu nationalist party in Mangalore that two of its heavyweights, N Yogish Bhat (former Deputy Speaker) and J Krishna Palemar (powerful minister in Yeddyurappa’s cabinet) could not save their seats.
This had indicated the rejection of the communal politics by the voters in the coastal belt of the state. The same region had witnessed sporadic violent incidents allegedly by the militant Hindutva outfits such as Sri Ram Sene.
Five years after the voters in the region rejected the politics of hate, the mood on the ground still remains in favour of communal harmony.
Moodbidri is a small constituency between Dakshin Kannada city Mangalore and Udipi, both prominent parts of coastal Karnataka. The area has been electing K Abhayachandra Jain for the last four terms. The Congress leader continues to remain popular as voters cutting across the ideologies appear to be satisfied with his performance.
What makes Moodbidri, which is home to several Jain temples, unique is its ability to lead the message of communal harmony in the state. On my way to Udipi and Manipal, I stopped by a place in Moodbidri for a cup of tea. Just when I was busy speaking to one Akbar Ali, who sold flowers, near a temple, one Austin Santosh appraoched me to narrate an incredible story (watch video below).
Santosh told me that Moodbidri’s story was extraordinary as the residents here valued the need to co-exist peacefully. He said, “You can see the Jasmine flower (being sold by Akbar). This flower is very important to us. We need this for wedding function and (more importantly) for temples. These are grown by Christian families in Udipi in a place called Shankarapura. Muslims sell this flower, if you see this man (pointing to Akbar), he is a Muslim. This is kind of communal harmony you can see in South Kannada and Udipi district.”
Udipi and Manipal
As I moved ahead, more and more people told me pretty much the same story that they needed to stay together and there was no place for hate in Karnataka. The people in the region also appeared to be fully content with the performance of their local legislators.
The performance and not the hate agenda, pushed by politicians of certain hue, was the top influencing factor that will determine who they vote for on 12 May. Sanjeeva, a local shopkeeper in Udipi, told me, “I will vote for Congress. The local MLA’s performance has been great.” His views were echoed by Bhaskara, who owned a tailoring shop next to Sanjeeva. He said, “Here Siddaramaiah is not a factor. At the end of the day, the one who delivers for us is our local MLA. And Pramod (Madhwaraj) has been a great MLA.”
In adjoining Manipal, views appeared to have been divided as I met few auto drivers and a grocery shop owner, who appeared to be keen to vote for the BJP even though they were happy with the Congress MLA’s performance.
Perform or Perish
Other than their determination to denounce the politics of hate, the voters that I met while covering over 1200 kms of stretch in Karnataka, amply indicated that performance was the key determining factor for them. Most voters barring members of Vokkaliga community in south and central Karnataka, told me that Siddaramaiah was a decent man, but that alone was not enough for the Congress party to secure their support.
One voter Siddhi, who owned a mobile shop in Mangalore, said that they were traditionally BJP supporters but they had voted for John Richard Lobo in 2013. She said that Lobo had been a good MLA, who enjoyed ‘fairly decent approval rating’ amongst the local voters.
She said, “Having said that, we voted for the BJP in 2014 (Lok Sabh elections). But when it comes to the assembly polls, our vote will be for the Congress. The performance matters to us more than the ideology.”
P.S. Vokkaligas are angry with Siddaramaiah as they accuse him of hurting their interests. The community is spread over Mandya, Mysore, Kolar and Haasan districts. Most farmers in the community mainly grow paddy and sugarcane. A lot of them alleged that Siddaramaiah held personal grudges against them and stopped the water supply to them last year. This, they said, resulted in damaging their ‘one full crop.’ Most of Vokkaligas I spoke to said that they will vote for the JDS.