By Srinivasan Nandagopal
Mangaluru, May 7, 2018: Walking down the memory lane to about twenty years, I was witness to a shift of tide in electioneering. The Circuit House of Today was then the hub of activities where one aspirant hobnobbed with the other to gain a ticket for the constituency of his choice. The hobnobbing is on even today, but on the other side of the spectrum. The tide has turned and so has the politics of Dakshina Kannada.
I am sure, those who have seen those days, will smile a bit as they read the preface of my analysis of the all important elections of 2018 which will in a way determine the course of political activities in the run up for the national political scenario in almost an year to come. While some term this region as the Crucible of Hindutva agenda while others define it as the Experimental laboratory of Right Winged ideology to flap its wings in the south.
Let me take you through the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada which stands at a threshold of a mixed mindset, confused and not convinced with any of their leaders who have led them to this state of affairs. Development no longer is the bone of contention here as in most of the country. Specific agenda of respective political parties have been thrown to dust as people of this literate district have shown their so called leaders - the political representatives, their place, sending them to the legislature and also defeating candidates in equal measures.
The Karnataka elections of 2018 is seen as the semi finals to the ensuing Lok Sabha elections next year and Dakshina Kannada is no different. However, as we watched the final moments of filing of nominations, an interesting situation comes to fore, especially in the selection of candidates in the saffron brigade. That is where I compared the present BJP to the Congress of the past. While it was certain that all the sitting MLAs of the Congress would be given the B-Forms, it was in the BJP that we saw hectic lobbying, alleged back biting and finally disgruntled elements raising noise of foul play by local MP and some leaders of the party.
With the battle lines now drawn, the fight is all set to be a fight till finish. Viewing the candidates of the BJP in some of the constituencies, the sitting Congress MLAs and minister may become a bit complacent. However, the confidence of the BJP top brass in fielding their candidates is being logically justified. I am in no way predicting any result through this article.
We like it or not, more than political ideologies and development agenda (if at all there is one), it is the caste and community politics that play a pivotal role in the results of the elections at this level. With four Bunts, a Billawa, a Gowda, a GSB and an ST candidate, the BJP has mustered all the courage to face the onslaught of the predominant Billawa and other backward communities in the region. However, they are only banking on the polarised votes of the Hindus at large.
According to party functionaries, the selection of candidates will affect the results as the odds have turned against them in at least three of the eight constituencies, namely Suratkal, Ullal and Belthangady. Going by the candidates, superficially, it is imminent that Dakshina Kannada is most likely to see a repeat performance of all the victors at it was five years ago. But the ground realities are a bit too complex as we dig deeper.
The straight fight between the two ST candidates in the reserved constituency of Sullia is always regarded as a cake walk for the saffron brigade due to the strong footing of RSS workers in the grass root level. Though the margin of victory has diminished over the years, Angara has scrapped through victorious for five consecutive terms. This time too, it will be that extra effort of Dr. Raghu that will be needed to give a befitting reply to the winning spree of his arch rival.
The Billawa dominated Belthangady constituency is again contested by political stalwart Vasanth Bangera (from Congress) who is known for winning irrespective of the party that has fielded him. This time too, it should not be an uphill task for this seasoned politician to return victorious but for his ailing health conditions. The political novice Harish Poonja’s youthfulness is being seen as a plus by the BJP as he is going overboard in campaigning ever since his name got thumbs up by the party high command. Will his enthusiasm with the under currents of disgruntled Ranjan Gowda (Son of Former Minister Gangadhar Gowda) and Mahesh Shetty Thimarody (shot to fame in the fight for justice in Saujanya Murder case), remains to be seen in this battle between David and Goliath.
Coming to the traditional stronghold of Sangh Parivar, Puttur, sitting Congress MLA Shakuntala Shetty is working really hard to safeguard her seat against the BJP district president Sanjeeva Matandur who seems to have garnered the confidence of the party cadres at the ground level and also empathised by the reasonably high number of voters from the Bunt community. It is interesting that at the ground level, all close aides of Shakku Akka (as the MLA is fondly known) are all foot soldiers of RSS and BJP which introduced her to electoral politics, paving way to become MLA for two terms as BJP candidate.
Another bigwig (literally and politically) who is eyeing for his eighth tenure as the legislature is the Forest Minister B Ramanath Rai. His clout among the minorities is attributed to his successful conquests through the decades (Except once when he lost to BJP’s Nagaraj Shetty). His opponent, businessman and progressive farmer of repute Ulepadi Rajesh Naik has been rather soft in his approach since the past five years when he first tasted defeat against the political heavy weight. However, this time round, the presence of Congress ousted Billawa leader Harikrishna Bantwal and his electioneering experience may come handy to Naik, as Bantwal is known for his expertise in strategising ‘how to defeat a candidate’.
The strong opposition to his re-nomination Jain among the youth in the Congress, the consolidation of right wing cadres with rising strength of fringe outfits like the Bajrang Dal and the instinctively aggressive charater of Abhayachandra Jain are seen as a few of the factors indicating that the going is not easy for him this time in Mulki-Moodabidri constituency. Despite a strong voice of decent by local BJP strongman Jagadish Adhikari, the BJP nominee Umanath Kotian seems to be confident to pull a surprise this time after his desperate attempt to wrest the seat from Jain five years ago.
The three seats of Mangalore surprises very many political analysts in more than a way. It was probably for the first time in more than three decades that all three seats, Mangalore (Ullal), Mangalore South (Mangalore City) and Mangalore North (Suratkal) are being defended by members of one political party, that too the one ruling the state. It was evident that all the three sitting MLAs minister U T Khader, J R Lobo and Moideen Bava were obvious choice for the Congress candidature unlike in the past when the candidature would not be predicted till the last moment.
The comedy of errors, now seem to have shifted to the Saffron front. Till a day before the date of nomination, one was left to wonder about the candidature with hectic lobbying by multiple candidates. The churning ended with the announcing of three new young faces to the coastline. It will be nothing short of a miracle if the trio Santosh Kumar Rai, Vedavyas Kamath and Dr. Bharath Shetty pulls up a win in the respective constituencies. Noting can be accurately predicted in this war that has gone miles beyond the realms of democratic spirit as candidates themselves have declared it a “War against Ram and Rahim”.
The author is a senior journalist and political analyst. He is presently the Convenor of Centre for Integrated Learning.