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Why BJP Retained Coastal Karnataka

May 17, 2023 09:20 IST

'We will win all the 28 Lok Sabha seats in 2024.'

IMAGE: A Bharatiya Janata Party road show in Suratkal in the Mangaluru City North constituency Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Bharath Shetty Y/Twitter

While the Congress swept across Karnataka by winning 135 seats from different regions, it could not wrest the coastal belt of the state from the Bharatiya Janata Party completely.

With 19 assembly seats spread across the three districts of Udupi (the BJP bagged all five assembly seats), Dakshina Kannada (of eight seats, the BJP bagged six -- Moodbdiri, Belthangady, Bantwal, Sullia, Mangaluru City North and Mangaluru City South -- and the Congress two -- Puttur and Mangalore) and Uttara Kannada (of six seats, the BJP could win two -- Kumta and Yellapur -- and the rest -- Karwar, Sirsi, Haliyal and Bhatkal -- were won by the Congress) the BJP won 13 seats (though down three from 2018, this tally is still better than the BJP's overall performance versus the Congress in the Old Mysuru, Mumbai-Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka regions of the state).

The Congress won six seats (up from three in 2018) from a region which has come to be associated with the BJP's strident Hindutva and polarising issues like love jihad and the hijab ban.

Dr Bharath Shetty Y, who won the Mangalore City North constituency for the second time, tells Prasanna D Zore/ why the BJP did better in Karnataka's coastal belt compared to its overall performance in the state.


How did the BJP hold onto its 2018 gains in coastal Karnataka despite the Congress sweeping the rest of the state?

Coastal Karnataka was not always a BJP stronghold. In 2013, the BJP had won only Sullia in Dakshinaa Kannada (This reserved seat for scheduled castes was won by Bhagirathi Murulya of the BJP this time). Every other seat then (in 2013) was won by the Congress.

In 2018 though, we won 16 out of the 19 seats from this region.

How did this huge jump from just one seat in 2013 to 16 seats in 2018, happen? And you repeated your performance again in 2023. How did you hold onto your gains this time despite a Congress wave?

In 2018 there was heavy anti-incumbency against the sitting Congress government (led by Siddaramaiah); the BJP's strong espousal of Hindutva also had a major impact on this entire belt.

This time around we were able to beat anti-incumbency because each of our MLAs have done development work of more than Rs 1,500 crore (Rs 15 billion) in their constituencies.

In my own constituency I have finished development projects worth Rs 2,250 crore (Rs 22.50 billion) related to drinking water, check dams, storm water drainage, etc.

During the two-year COVID lockdown all the BJP MLAs were on the ground working among the needy in their constituencies. We did not taken even one off day.

Since then till the (2023) elections were announced we were continuously in contact with our constituents. None of the MLAs took a break (from development work) as far as I know.

The coastal Karnataka people thankfully did not believe in the freebies the Congress promised and voted for Hindutva and the BJP's development work.

Are you saying that the rest of Karnataka fell for the Congress's freebies and that's why the Congress won 135 seats?

I am not saying that, but you cannot ignore that the BJP maintained its vote share of 36 per cent even this time.

Our constituency that believes in the BJP's ideology and development work has remained intact. I feel there has been a direct shift of five percentage vote share directly from the Janata Dal-Secular to the Congress. That could be one of the reasons (why the Congress won 135 seats from its 2018 tally of 80 seats).

The Congress has its vote bank and the BJP has its own vote bank.

Are you saying that BJP's espousal of love jihad, demand for ban on hijab along with the development projects you listed worked in your favour in coastal Karnataka?

Yes. That is true.

We (coastal Karnataka) have a border with Kerala. We are deeply connected with the people of Kerala in these border areas and we know what is happening there. What happens there affects our people also.

Love jihad is quite rampant in Kerala and its impact is visible in coastal Karnataka also.

A few cases have happened in Mangalore also. A case involving the daughter-in-law of an ex-MLA who was raided by the NIA (National Investigation Agency) and one lady has also joined ISIS (Islamic State). Then there was an attempted bomb blast.

Are these all recorded as first information reports by the police in Mangalore?

Yes. The NIA raided the house of B N Basha -- the son of ex-Congress MLA from Ullal B M Idinabba -- whose daughter-in-law the NIA claimed had alleged links with Islamic State.

What went wrong for the BJP in Puttur? It lost Puttur, an RSS bastion, to the Congress this time.

In Puttur, there was confusion among our karyakartas and voters regarding the candidature. Both the candidates (of the BJP and Congress) were from the Sangh (RSS) background. There was a small confusion about it, but I am not sure.

(The Puttur seat was won by the Congress's Ashok Kumar Rai, who was earlier affiliated with the RSS even as the BJP denied ticket to incumbent MLA Sanjeev Matandur and fielded Asha Thimmappa, who lost to Rai).

It is indeed a major loss for us in coastal Karnataka.

And how do you look at the BJP losing 38 seats in Karnataka this time from the 104 it won in 2018?

As I told you earlier, the BJP vote bank is intact. There is hardly any loss the party has suffered in terms of the percentage of votes we polled in 2018 and 2023.

There has been a five per cent shift of the JD-S vote bank to Congress. This could have been possible due to the call given by the Congress to ban the Bajrang Dal in case they come to power.

I think the Congress played a bold gambit here to announce it as part of their manifesto during the heat of the election campaign.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi being felicitated by then Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj S Bommai during the Vijaya Sankalp Yatra Maha Sangama, April 20, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Did Narendra Modi's 'Bajrang Bali Ki Jai call fail to ring a bell among the voters of Karnataka?

I believe this call was not taken to our supporters and voters effectively.

Though the BJP fielded 69 Lingayat candidates it could win only 15 Lingayat seats.
Have the Lingayats deserted the BJP because many claim that Lingayat stalwarts like former chief ministers B S Yediyurappa and Jagadish Shettar were humiliated by the BJP?

I won't be able to comment on that because in our region (the coastal belt) there are no Lingayats or Gowdas (the Vokkaligas, which is the other dominant caste in the state that plays a major role in electoral politics in Karnataka).

I am talking about the rest of the state where Lingayats seem to have voted overwhelmingly for the Congress... Of the 69 Lingayat candidates that the BJP gave tickets to, only 15 could win.

All our leaders (state and national) in their meetings are discussing that only. We are not very sure about that (why the Lingayats deserted the BJP and voted for the Congress).

Given that the BJP has retained its vote share, do you think the BJP can win 26 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats again in 2024?

In Lok Sabha the issues will be very different. We won't have a problem there (in repeating our 2019 Lok Sabha performance).

IMAGE: Students wearing saffron shawls stage a protest against allowing hijab-wearing students into classrooms, outside the IDSG Government College in Chikmagalur. Photograph: PTI Photo

Will love jihad and the hijab ban also play a role in the BJP's election campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha election?

(After a brief pause) Love jihad, I think, will have a role to play (in the 2024 Lok Sabha election). The truth of love jihad is coming out. Everybody is talking about it. It's not only Hindus. The people of India are feeling the heat of love jihad.

Whatever the case, we will win all the 28 Lok Sabha seats in 2024 given the impact of Modiji's national policies are having on the people of Karnataka.

Why didn't the Modi magic work for BJP in the 2023 assembly election?

As I told you, the shift of votes (from the JD-S to the Congress) was unexpected. There was one-sided shift of votes from the JD-S to the Congress. Only a particular group of people (Muslims) voted for that side (the Congress). Our votes (the Hindu votes) got fragmented.

Should BJP be worried about the transfer of Lingayat votes to the Congress? Lingayats have been the BJP's traditional voters for quite some time now.

We are still analysing the numbers and it will be very difficult to comment on this aspect so soon. Even if there is a shift, it will be temporary. Lingayats will back the BJP soon. Our leadership is capable of solving such issues.

Former BJP chief minister Jagadish Shettar told us that party National secretary B L Santosh has a vested interest in sidelining the Lingayats as he wants to become chief minister and that Lingayats were angry with the BJP for the humiliation meted out to popular community leaders like Shettar and Yediyurappa.
How do you react to such charges by someone who was very much part of the BJP just a month ago?

B L Santosh is a (former RSS) pracharak. The only objective of pracharaks is the spread of RSS ideology. They don't have personal ambitions; they live for the spread of the Sangh's philosophy. They work for whoever the RSS asks them to serve.

If the RSS asks them to go to BJP, then they work for the party; they don't have any vested interests.

Jagadish Shettar's charges don't make sense at all. He himself lost heavily from the seat which he has won so many times. That itself speaks volumes about his standing and popularity as a Lingayat leader.