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Mangalore: Has attack on women, church done the BJP in?

April 14, 2014 15:24 IST

From a four-each score in 2008 to a 7-1 drubbing in 2013, the BJP, which had once proclaimed that Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka is its stronghold, appears to be on a weak footing today. Vicky Nanjappa tells you why

The Dakshina Kannada parliamentary constituency has eight assembly segments -- Belthangady,  Moodabidri, Mangalore City North, Mangalore City South, Mangalore, Bantwal, Puttur and Sullia. While in the 2008 assembly elections the Bharatiya Janata Party had taken four seats, the 2013 elections saw a virtual whitewash.

The Congress won seven of the eight seats and took from the BJP -- the Mangalore City South, the Mangalore City North and the Puttur constituencies.

The reasons for the downfall are plenty. There were the pub and home-stay attacks in which women were beaten up. This was followed by the church attacks which angered the large Christian population. To top it all was the porn viewing incident involving some of the members of legislative assembly from this region, which left many voters disgusted.

The BJP tried its level best to retain Dakshina Kannada and even went up to the extent of pacifying a reluctant Narendra Modi to address a rally in Mangalore. However, nothing worked.

2014: The BJP wants to start over, but then realises that the battle ahead is anything but easy. In the 13 elections that have been held here since 1962, the Congress has won this seat six times while the BJP seven. Until 1989, it was a Congress bastion, but in the 1991 elections, the BJP won from here for the first time.

Since then, the BJP has made its stronghold, and even today the seat is held by a BJP man, Nalin Kumar Kateel

The battle in this constituency is between the BJP’s Kateel and Congress’ Janardhan Poojary. The same duo had fought each other in 2009, and the BJP won by a margin of over 40,000 votes. Can they repeat this performance this time too?

There is a lot of difference between the 2009 and 2014 elections. In 2009, the BJP was in power and the wave for the party was such that it would have turned anything to virtual gold. There was a great deal of polarisation of the Hindu votes in this constituency and the units within the party were united.

However, in 2013, not only were there issues ranging from porn to attack on women and religious places, the BJP was also a divided house. Former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa had quit the party, and then took along Dhananjay Kumar, who has been a four-time member of Parliament from here. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was also divided as many in Mangalore felt that the former chief minister  was wronged by the BJP.

The polarisation of the Hindu votes was absent, which led to the fall of the saffron party.

Kateel is a simple candidate and prefers a door-to-door campaign. He is not affected by the negative factors against the party and says that the house is in order today.

The BJP also has a different approach this time. They are not propagating the cause of Hindutva. During the previous elections, all the issues were based on cow slaughter, religious conversion and ‘love jihad’.

This time the BJP is singing a different tune. It is all about development and empowerment of women. This is a deliberate strategy as a large number of voters feel that development is a better option than an overdose of Hindutva.

However, Kateel will have to bear in mind that he will need to do much more since he wasn’t the first choice for the BJP from here. There were talks of replacing him since the report card on development that the BJP had on him was not impressive. However, the BJP decided to retain him, fearing a possible divide in the party.

Poojary, 77, on the other hand is not new to this constituency. He has won the elections from here thrice and just as he was looking like a candidate who could never lose, the BJP has given him a jolt. For Poojary, this is the last election. He says he is hopeful that the mismanagement by the BJP government in the state which cost them dearly in 2013 will have its effects this time too.

“Ever since the Congress has come to power there have been no incidents of violence and the people are happy with development and the peace and harmony,” he says.

While the trends may be in favour of the Congress, when one looks at the 2013 verdict, there are also problems galore for the Congress this time

Poojary was chosen as the candidate after the party held primaries to elect its leader. Many in the anti-Poojary camp have not even come out to campaign for him, thus indicating a major divide in the party. The Congress also faces a backlash from the RSS, who are upset that many of its activists have been booked under the Rowdy Act.

At the moment, the scales looks slightly tilted in favour of the Congress. But the BJP says as the polling date approaches, there will be an undercurrent which will help them sweep the Lok Sabha elections not only in Mangalore but the entire nation.

Image: Nalin Kumar Kateel (centre) during an election campaign.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bangalore