bjp udupi
A rally held by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Udupi. File photo: Twitter/@AmitShah

Coastal Karnataka: Development is talking point; voting is on communal issues

The election debate in the region is invariably centred on pro-Hindutva vs anti-Hindutva

Undivided Dakshina Kannada district (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi) may be the first in the state to attain 100% literacy rate, and is unaffected by caste conflicts, money and other lures that come along with the elections. However, communal issues always reverberate in the coastal Karnataka region.

In coastal Karnataka, including Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada districts, communal politics is at its peak during the elections. It always comes to the fore during elections and people decide their leader based on whether they support or oppose the issue.

Undercurrent of communal divide

The election debate is invariably centred on the issue of pro-Hindutva vs anti-Hindutva. Development projects or anti-incumbency does not have much impact on the ground. People may talk about other issues, but they almost always vote on religious sentiments rather than going by the candidate.

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Hijab, halal, love jihad, azan and many such issues are working as an undercurrent along with the Hindutva agenda. Communalism is a key weapon in every election in the coastal areas, a hotbed of communal politics. In these elections, the Congress has provided ammunition to the BJP by speaking about a ban on Bajrang Dal in its manifesto.

The backward class communities are primarily the backbone of pro-Hindutva organisations, which are helping the BJP gain strength in the region, unlike the rest of Karnataka. Billava, Kulala and other such communities are in the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Sri Ram Sene and other such organisations, and they are promoting the BJP in the coastal belt.


Ever since the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya, religious politics has been thriving in the coastal regions of Karnataka. Fundamentalists in both the communities, Hindus and Muslims, are raking up divisive issues and using them as a weapon in the political arena in these three districts. Hate killings are a part of coastal politics.

Communal conflict and killings are common before every election year. Before the 2018 assembly elections, the murder cases of Paresh Mesta, Sarath Madiwala, and Ashraf Kulai were reported, while the Praveen Nettaru, Jaleel and Naushad murder cases hogged the limelight before the 2023 polls.

However, this time the killing of BJP Yuva Morcha member Praveen Nettaru (July 2022) dealt a heavy blow to the ruling party. The activists came out against leaders like Nalin Kumar Kateel, S Angara and Sunil Kumar. When Kateel reached Nettaru’s house, the activists turned up against him and he returned without even visiting his kin. Some youth activists had also resigned from primary membership of the BJP.

Shocked, the BJP devised a grand strategy to quell the anger among its workers. The party promised Nettaru’s wife a government job, compensation and a house for the family, which somewhat calmed frayed tempers. The case was handed over to the NIA and the Popular Front of India (PFI), which was said to be behind the Nettaru murder case, was banned.

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Similarly, two people from Mangaluru were killed in police firing during the CAA protest in December 2021. The then Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa initially announced Rs 10 lakh each as compensation to the two families, but later withdrew it, triggering massive outrage. There were rumours that the government was discriminating on religious lines in awarding compensation.

Hijab row

Banning Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) affiliate PFI is a powerful weapon for the BJP in these elections in the coastal region. The PFI was behind the hijab case, while the NIA had unearthed the PFI conspiracy in the Praveen Nettaru murder case. The hijab case raised by six female students at a college in Udupi could have been settled there, but political conspiracies did not allow it to happen. As a result, the schools and colleges that were supposed to teach the students were engulfed in the flames of religious politics.

Both SDPI and BJP were always conscious of keeping the hijab issue alive for some time, and also benefited from both these cases. The man who was at the centre of the hijab issue in Udupi, Yashpal Suvarna, has been allotted the BJP ticket this time from Udupi.

Another such issue is being talked about since last year. It is an unannounced prohibition that non-Hindu traders are not allowed to trade in Hindu temple fairs. Although this was done by Hindu organisations, only the BJP will get the benefit.

Real issues

Fishing, a major industry along the coast, is grappling with various issues. Poor fishermen face problems like housing, sea erosion, non-availability of kerosene oil and lack of diesel subsidies. Similarly, the issues faced by the beedi industry in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi district, where women are involved in large numbers, don’t find mention in poll manifestos. Unemployment, salt water woes in coastal taluks, lack of flood relief in coastal areas, and infrastructure issues are major concerns, but political parties don’t seem inclined to address them.

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In addition, the sea and rivers, which have abundant opportunities for tourism on the coast, are not utilised properly. However, these issues never come to the fore during elections as communal politics dominates the poll narrative.

Rebel factor

The ruling BJP is not only fighting the anti-incumbency but is also faced with the threat of rebels in various assembly segments.

In Karkala, Karnataka minister V Sunil Kumar is facing a challenge from the Sri Ram Sene which is working against him. In Puttur, BJP candidate Asha Thimmappa is up against a rebel candidate, Arun Kumar Puttila. The division of votes in these constituencies may help the Congress.

The Congress too is facing similar challenges on some segments. Mohiuddin Bawa, who defected from the Congress, is contesting from the JDS against Congress candidate Inayat Ali from Mangaluru South. Bawa’s charisma is likely to split the Congress vote and may help the BJP.

In BJP’s stronghold of Sullia, sitting MLA S Angara has been denied ticket by the BJP. Angara, who has won six times, faced opposition due to his performance in the constituency. BJP has allotted a ticket to Bhagirathi Murulya this time.

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Meanwhile, RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhatt has predicted that the BJP would register a landslide victory in the state. “We are in a better position this time. National leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah are campaigning across the state,” said Bhatt. Another leader, Nagaraj Shetty of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, said the Congress has helped BJP by exposing its “anti-Hindu” face in the party’s manifesto with the proposal to ban Bajrang Dal.

However, Ramesh Poojari, a block Congress member of Mangaluru, said the Congress has proposed a ban on elements that are against the society and not particularly Bajrang Dal or PFI. The election in this region will be against communalism and the Congress has a good chance in the coastal belt, he said.

Convenor of Congress Campaign Committee Manjunath Bhandari said, “Congress will win at least half of the seats in South Kannada and Udupi. Fielding candidates from the right castes in most constituencies have doubled the confidence of the Congress.”

SDPI threat

What will be the SDPI’s effect in the twin coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi is now a nagging question for the Congress, which was traditionally getting minority votes.

SDPI workers think that Mangaluru MLA UT Khader may get a smaller majority this time as he is likely to get Hindu votes due to his moderate stance on many issues, including the hijab issue. However, SDPI is actively campaigning in Muslim areas. Women in Muslim families are also participating in door-to-door campaigning.

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SDPI workers have continued their disciplined door-to-door canvassing, though they seem to have lost steam in the wake of new developments like the Bajrang Dal ban proposal by the Congress and the intensified political struggle between the two major parties.

SDPI leader Latif Puttur said that they will decide on voting depending on the situation in every constituency. “We will select the candidates who will win against the BJP and vote for them. Be it Congress candidate, Janata Dal (S), AAP or Independent,” he said. If they follow this strategy, Congress rebel and JDS candidate Mohiuddin Bawa are likely to get SDPI votes in the Mangalore North constituency, where Congress has fielded youth leader Inayat Ali.

Congress district committee president Harish Kumar said his party does not see SDPI as a threat. “We consider both BJP and SDPI as communal parties because both rely on votes based on religion,” he said.

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