Karnataka polls: Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is the polarising factor along the coast

Siddu's personality, policies and brand of politics have become the reference point for voters of Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts.

Published: 26th April 2018 04:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th April 2018 03:14 PM   |  A+A-

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah (File | EPS)

Express News Service

The coastal Karnataka is bracing for what could be the most polarised election ever. While religious polarisation has been a primary factor in elections for decades here, this time around, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, his personality, policies and brand of politics have become the reference point for voters of Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts.

“We will only vote for BJP. Until Siddaramaiah is in power, we will never get justice,” said Mahadev H Mesta, an auto driver in Honnavar. His anger stems from the belief that the Congress government did nothing to solve the murder of Hindu youth Paresh Mesta. His vote for BJP is a vote against Siddaramaiah. On the other hand, Basheer Ullal, a member of dry fish traders’ union at Mangaluru port, said his vote for Congress is a pro-Siddaramaiah vote. “Siddaramaaih is the only chief minister ever to have boldly supported equality in society. His policies have helped the poor. There is peace under his leadership,” he said. The two contradicting statements pretty much sum up the situation along the coast.

Recent incidents of communal violence, the government's attempt to take over the administration of temples and mutts, the controversial attempt to withdraw cases of communal violence only against minorities, and granting of religious minority status to Lingayats have made Siddaramaiah a talking point of the polarisation debate in coastal Karnataka. The sentiment is either pro-Siddaramaiah, resulting in support for Congress, or anti-Siddaramaiah, leading to support for BJP. Both parties are riding on the Siddaramaiah factor for electoral gains. While BJP has projected Siddaramaiah as anti-Hindu for his policies, the Congress talks about how social justice was the primary concern under Siddaramaiah.

Jayanth Poojari, a member of a temple trust in Baada near Kumta, is one among the hundreds of youngsters who fosters anger against the Siddaramaiah government over the death of Paresh Mesta. “I took part in protests after Mesta's death not as an RSS supporter but as a Hindu,” he says. Mesta, 18, was found dead in a pond on December 8, 2017 and his death triggered protests and communal clashes in Honnavar. “Our MLA worked for the development of the constituency but when our belief is under attack, we have to protect it. I voted for Congress last time but this time I will not. When BJP was in power, there were no communal riots but look at the situation under Siddaramaiah,” said Rajesh Kundar, member, Fish Traders Association, Malpe.

Political analyst Dr Sandeep Shastry agrees that the current government and its leader have become a new channel for polarisation. “Earlier forms of polarisation directly linked with religion have already brought all the support they can to parties. BJP is now pitching the Hindutva debate in a fresh angle,” he said.

It is not just the Hindus who are upset with Siddaramaiah. Dr Haneef Shabab, former general secretary of Majlise Islah Wa Tanzeem of Bhatkal, is disappointed with Siddaramaiah’s ways of handling communally sensitive issues. “BJP will win Bhatkal and Congress has only itself to blame. What was the need to pass an order to clear names of only Muslims in communal riot cases? This differential treatment has angered Hindus who will consolidate,” he observed.

According to the 2011 census, of the total 14,37,169 population of Uttara Kannada, 11,87,306 are Hindus, 1,87,974 are Muslims and 44,530 are Christians. Out of Udupi’s total population of 11,77,361, Hindus stand at 10,09,179, Muslims at 96,740 and Christians at 65,838. In Dakshin Kannada, the total population was 20,89,649, of which Hindus number 14,03,854 while Muslim population is at 5,01,896 and Christians stand at 1,71,398. While a divided Hindu vote has been BJP’s headache, a consolidated Muslim and Christian votes is the Congress strength.

A month ago, Honnavar was full of Paresh Mesta's posters photoshopped with a tilak on his forehead, and his parents were made the mascots of BJP’s Janasuraksha yatra led by Ananth Kumar Hegde in Ankola. The protests centred around the government's inaction in cases of violence against Hindus. The narrative is intact while the Congress that won 13 seats out of 19 in the region in 2013 is firefighting. “The Hindutva and Modi wave in this part of Karnataka is like the new Indira wave ready to sweep everyone away. Politicians know that talking of caste and religion will bring them votes and now even people have forgotten about development,” observed Gajanana Umesh Bhat, a resident of Honnavar and a senior journalist.

The polarisation is taking a toll on residents. “I have never been reminded of my religion all these years but today my children come back from school and tell me that the other kids don’t play with them,” said Musfa Ayam Sheikh as she waited for a bus at Honnavar bus stop. She says that while all these years she voted for the party of her choice, this time around the community had come together to discuss and decide.

The open Hindutva agenda of BJP and the alleged minority appeasement by the Congress has ripped the coastal districts into two and right at the centre is Siddaramaiah, around whom the new narrative of polarisation in being built.


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