Karnataka: In Hindutva’s laboratory, RSS, BJP to face a tough fight
In the mid-1990s, the Sangh Parivar utilized the Datta Peetha row to sow the seeds of communalism far and deep and it has paid rich political dividends to the BJP.
Bangalore: The electoral contest in Udupi-Chikmagalur parliamentary constituency, Hindutva’s only laboratory in this part of the world, has become a battle of prestige for the BJP and the Congress. Unlike in other places, it is not the ‘Modi wave’ but the Sangh Parivar’s special interest in the communally charged region that has become the driving force of the BJP’s campaign in the seat.
The rapid growth of aggressive – some would say regressive - Hindutva here has been a two-decade affair. In the mid-1990s, the Sangh Parivar utilized the Datta Peetha row to sow the seeds of communalism far and deep and it has paid rich political dividends to the BJP.
Back then, it was just Chikmagalur constituency – it was merged into Udupi in 2008 - and a Congress bastion. The Bababudan shrine, also known as Datta Peetha, is claimed by both Muslims and Hindus and both offer prayers at the shrine regularly. In the mid-90s, the Sangh Parivar took the stand that the administration of the shrine should be handed over to Hindus. As it began building a movement with a strong communal overtone, many youngsters cutting across caste lines started becoming active in various Sangh Parviar organizations such as the Bajrang Dal, VHP and the RSS. The ownership of the shrine is still not resolved.
One of the biggest outcomes of the Datta Peetha row was the emergence of CT Ravi as a leader of the BJP. From being an ordinary worker of the party, he rose to the level of a minister when DV Sadananda Gowda was the chief minister. However, he was disappointed when the BJP did not give him a ticket to contest the parliamentary polls. His followers appear to be dormant in the campaigning and it might prove costly for Shobha Karandlaje, the official BJP candidate.
Shobha, a close associate of former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, is up against sitting Congress MP Jayaprakash Hegde. Former Union minister and friend-turned-foe of Yeddyurappa, V Dhananjaya Kumar is in the fray as the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate.
The constituency has a complex mix of assembly segments. While Kundapura, Kaup, Udupi and Karkala are in coastal region, Sringeri, Mudigere and Chikmagalur are in the Malnad region (Western Ghats) and Tarikere in the plains. Along with coffee and cardamom, the region’s economy runs on areca nut.
While the Bunts, the Brahmins, the Mogaveeras (fishermen) and the Idigas comprise the majority of the voters in the coastal region, SCs and Vokkaligas dominate the Malnad region. In the plains, it is mixture of Vokkaliga, Kuruba, Lingayat and Lambani voters. In all the assembly constituencies, there are substantial numbers of minority voters too.
Shobha is considered an “outsider” to the constituency and the local BJP unit had opposed her candidature. However, the Sangh Parivar, looking to placate Yedyurappa, prevailed. The local party cadre had to fall in line.
The ‘Modi wave’ is visible only in the urban areas of the constituency. Jayaprakash Hegde’s clean image and his easy accessibility has put the voters in a dilemma. After the late BR Srikantappa, the four-time BJP MP from the region, Hegde has been the most accessible people’s representative from the region. With no issues to counter Hegde, BJP is raking up contentious topics – the reported ban on the sale of areca nut by the UPA government and the Congress government’s attempts to relocate the forest dwellers.
However, Hegde is effectively countering the propaganda with documentary evidences and directly reaching out the people. Even his network is matching the Sangh Parivar’s reach in the region, making it difficult for the BJP to browbeat him over any issue. As the minister for Fisheries and Ports, he developed substantial clout among the fishermen community also.
In the coastal region, Hegde has managed to gain control of Mogaveera votes, while Idigas are still undecided. Idiga votes will decide the candidate’s fate in coastal belt. In two constituencies of Malnad, both the parties are in a neck-and-neck fight. The Tarikere segment, however, holds the key to the results in the constituency.
When Srikantappa was the MP, Tarikere gave the BJP a massive lead of over 40,000 votes. Yeddyurappa, who camped in Tarikere for a week before the campaign actually began, has managed to ensure that barring Kuruba and Muslim votes, the most of the votes land in the BJP kitty.
For now, it is not easy to predict which way the wind is blowing in Udipi-Chikmaglur.
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