The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has opted for ‘aggressive’ young candidates in coastal Karnataka, said to be the Hindutva belt of the state. As it is, the support for the BJP is high in the coastal belt. Of the 13 assembly constituencies in the undivided coastal region – comprising Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts – the BJP won 12 seats in 2018.
The party has, this time, changed some sitting MLAs and chosen new candidates who are considered to be more aggressive Hindutva faces than the ones replaced. The new faces include Bhagirathi Murulya, Asha Thimmappa Gowda, Satish Kampala, Yashpal Suvarna, Gurme Suresh Shetty and Gururaj Gantihole.
In Dakshina Kannada, candidates like Dr Bharat Shetty, Rajesh Naik and Umanath Kotyan are Hindutva-based leaders, but someone like Harish Poonja of Belthangady is considered to be more aggressive than others. In Udupi, minister and the present MLA from Karkala, V Sunil Kumar, is considered an aggressive leader who propagates Hindutva.
Among the new faces the BJP has gone for this time is Mogaveera community leader and Bajrang Dal activist Yashpal Suvarna, who has replaced Raghupathi Bhat from Udupi constituency.
Riding on ‘hijab’
Though Bhat is said to be the person who raised the ‘hijab’ issue in the district high school, it was Suvarna who infused aggression and allegedly gave a ‘communal touch’ to the issue in the district and spread it to the state level. It is said that Bhat once tried to hush up the case but Suvarna did not allow it.
Bhat lost the race for the assembly ticket to Suvarna due to the latter’s aggressive ‘Hindutva’ stand and the fact that another Brahmin was nominated from an adjacent constituency in the district. Moreover, Bhat’s relationship with state BJP leaders was not very good, a party source said.
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Suvarna is a Mogaveera, an OBC group, and played a central role in the hijab row as vice-president of the Development Committee of Udupi Government PU Girls’ College, where the girls were stopped from wearing hijab. He called the six students who had moved court over the matter “terrorists” and continues to stand by his statement.
A party source said that Suvarna’s actions – including “providing saffron shawls to students to counter the girls seeking to wear hijab” — ensured that the row festered and spread to other parts of the state.
Suvarna’s father was a banker who quit his job to start a business in fishing. The family business has prospered along with Suvarna’s clout in the region, with the 45-year-old emerging as the voice of the Mogaveera community that is largely employed in fishing. In coastal Karnataka, there’s a saying – ‘whoever controls the seas, controls the region’ — and it is true in Suvarna’s case. For the last 13 years, Suvarna has been the president of the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts’ Cooperative Fish Marketing Federation. As far back as 1980, Suvarna’s uncle, Raghunath Suvarna, an RSS worker, contested the Surathkal assembly constituency but lost.
Ties with saffron organisations
In college, Suvarna was associated with the ABVP and later with the Bajrang Dal. By his late 20s, he had earned a name in the pro-Hindu groups as a cow vigilante. In 2005, he was one of the prime accused in the case of stripping and parading a father and his son, who were allegedly transporting calves. He was later acquitted by a special trial court.
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In 2017, when late Sri Vishweshateertha Swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt of Udupi organised an iftar party inside the mutt, Suvarna was among those who objected. “I told the seer not to entertain Muslims, but did not comment against him in public as he was my guru,” he once said.
Now he is fielded from Udupi, considered to be a ‘safe seat’ where Mogaveera (fishermen) and Billavas, the OBC communities, are more in number.
Among other aggressive candidates is Manikanth Rathod, who the BJP has fielded from Chittapur constituency against Priyank Kharge, son of AICC president Mallikarjuna Kharge.
Rathod is on the ‘rowdy sheeter’ list in Kalaburagi district and was recently convicted by the Yadgiri District Court. He is facing many cases in Yadgiri, Vijayapur and Kalaburagi districts, including the charge of illegal rice transportation. He was exiled for one year from the Kalaburagi district and Kalaburagi City Police Commissioner had issued an order, but Rathod obtained a restraining order from the high court.
Rathod is a Hindutva activist in the region and has been making allegations against Priyank Kharge. This helped him to get a BJP ticket, sources said.
Anil Menasinakai, who has been given the ticket from Gadag constituency in the Kittur Karnataka region, is another aggressive Hindutva leader. He has been known to give controversial statements and one of his statements was, “Trust Allah, but don’t trust the mullahs in the mosque.”
His links with the ‘top bosses’ of the party and his ‘Hindutva attitude’ helped him to get a ticket from the Gadag constituency, even though there were several other aspirants for the BJP ticket, it is said.
A senior BJP leader said the party gives weightage to ‘nationalism’ and Hindutva and that youngsters shall be given chances to make them future leaders.
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“There already are such leaders, including CT Ravi, Sunil Kumar, Shobha Karandlaje, Tejaswi Surya, Pratap Simha, Ananth Kumar Hegde, Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, and we have to add more such leaders in the interest of the state and nation,” he said, adding “We need such youngsters in all the regions of Karnataka, including Kalyana Karnataka (Hyderabad Karnataka), Kittur Karnataka (Mumbai Karnataka), Middle Karnataka, Old Mysuru region and Coastal Karnataka.”