Congress' coastal Karnataka debacle due to its communal politicking and Narendra Modi's charisma, say voters

Mangaluru/Udupi/Karwar: Analysts call it a landslide, academics call it polarisation, but voters say too much communal politicking and appeasement politics did the Congress in on the coast. Of a total of 19 seats, the Congress could muster only 3, one in Dakshina Kannada (Mangaluru-UT Khader) and two in Uttara Kannada (Haliyal - RV Deshpande and Shivaram Hebbar in Yellapur). In Udupi district, the party drew a naught.

 Congress coastal Karnataka debacle due to its communal politicking and Narendra Modis charisma, say voters

BJP workers celebrate in Mangaluru. M Raghuram/101Reporters

A psephologist would be hard pressed to account for the spectrum of polarisation that has taken shape on the coast. How has RV Deshpande, an upper-caste Hindu, won the Haliyal seat that is dominated by Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward classes, minorities five times in a row? What explains his ability to influence voters in the neighbouring constituencies of Yellapur and Karwar, where he was the district in-charge?

Pramod Madhwaraj, the only Mogaveera (fishermen) candidate in the state fielded by any party could not win in Udupi despite his clout in the community, while Ramanatha Rai in Bantwal despite the support from the strong Bunt community, Muslim minorities, a large portion of Billavas which he enjoyed for five terms, has suddenly fallen from grace. The story of the coast is changing, or is it the coming of a new voter wave — the young-voter kind?

'Modi's foreign policy motivates young voters'

According to voter statistics issued by the district offices in the three coastal districts, about 20 percent of voters belong to the 18-23 age group. “They are motivated by the name and fame that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given India on an international level, particularly in Europe, US and China. This readily catches the imagination of young voters of that age group,” says Dr Bharat Shetty, the newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Mangaluru North constituency. “They want to see India becoming a ‘vishwa guru’ in education, an economic giant and safe place to live for all, they want India to shed the image of caste and religion-based India.”

Dr. Shetty might be right as Dakshina Kannada voters have chosen four young candidates in Belthangady (Harish Poonja) Dr. Shetty himself, Mangaluru city south (Vedavyasa Kamath) and Rajesh Nayak (Bantwal), all from the BJP. Says Rohit Poojary, an engineering graduate from Mangaluru south, “I am fed up with the half a century old political thinking, it was taking the country nowhere. I like the way Prime Minister Modi took the name of India to places around the world. His talk in Madison Square Garden was awe inspiring. I am sure it has inspired millions like me in India and outside, which is why I voted for the BJP”.

Supporters of BJP candidate from Mangaluru south D Vedavyas Kamath celebrate his victory. M Raghuram/101Reporters

Supporters of BJP candidate from Mangaluru south D Vedavyas Kamath celebrate his victory. M Raghuram/101Reporters

In Uttara Kannada the canvas on which BJP made a comeback was larger. “Our over-confidence and failure to understand the sentiment of the majority community cost us dearly in this election”, was the reaction of Congress leaders in Uttara Kannada district as the results poured in. Most of them, waiting outside Baliga College in Kumta where the Uttara Kannada vote was being counted, attributed the defeat of their party to the Modi wave and the communal riots that erupted in the district in last December.

Of six assembly seats in the district, BJP has won Karwar, Kumta, Bhatkal and Sirsi and Congress has bagged Yellapur and Haliyal seats. Congress stalwarts like industry minister RV Deshpande won with a narrow margin. Sitting MLA Shivaram Hebbar of the Congress won Yellapur by a slender margin of 1,500 votes. The BJP won all its seats with huge margins.

Tanzeem's stand and mishandled riots

Many Congress leaders feel that the open support extended by the Majlise-Islah-Wa-Tanzeem, a Muslim body, to the Congress candidate in communally sensitive Bhatkal constituency had sent a wrong signal to the Hindu community. The support of Tanzeem not only affected the party’s prospects in Bhatkal constituency but also in other seats, said Nagaraj Naik, a gram panchayat member of Congress.

In several constituencies, Muslims have voted for the BJP. Supporting any one party in the name of religion would have a counter-reaction and the Tanzeem leaders should understand this, said Mohammad Shafi, secretary of the BJP’s minority morcha.

Congress mishandled the communal riots that erupted in the aftermath of the death of Paresh Mesta in Honavar. Police targeted Hindu youths and slapped cases against people for forwarding ‘provocative’ messages on social media. The seething anger of the majority community has resulted in the defeat of the Congress, said Deepak Waingankar, former Congress block president.

Both BJP and Congress leaders said that the four public meetings addressed by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath in the district had an effect on Hindu voters. Adityanath had raked up the issue of communal riots and the terror link to Bhatkal. Congress leaders blame the party leadership for not taking the majority community into the confidence.

“For the last 70 years, Congress had taken the Hindus for granted and have run after the votes of the minority community,” said Rajesh Nayak, district spokesperson of BJP. “Congress MLA Mankal Vaidya went to the Tanzeem office in Bhatkal seeking their support. This shows that the Congress party was over-confidant about the Hindu support. The Tanzeem leaders in Bhatkal forced the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate, who is a Muslim, to withdraw his nomination papers to avoid the split in the Muslim votes and supported Congress. If they can play the religion card, so can we.”

Except in Karwar and Sirsi, JD(S) has poor show

With the exception of Karwar, the JD(S) has fared badly in Uttara Kannada. During 2013 assembly polls, JD(S) was in the second position in the district in the terms of the total number of votes polled. But this time barring in Karwar and Sirsi, JD(S) candidates lost their security deposits in every constituency they contested.

During last Assembly elections, Uttara Kannada had five Congress MLAs (including two independents who later joined Congress) and BJP had only one MLA, Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri from Sirsi. But Congress has lost all three seats in the coastal belt of the district and could retain its 2 seats (Yellapur and Haliyal) in the interior.

Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Adityanath all harped on how Karnataka could develop if it was ruled by the same party that controlled the central government. This electioneering tactic could have proved effective in a federal-democratic set up like India, academics opine.

(M Raghuram is a Mangaluru-based freelance writer and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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Updated Date: May 16, 2018 18:13:48 IST