Often during discourses on politics in Karnataka, the coastal regions of the state, especially the district of Dakshina Kannada, are referred to as laboratories for hardline Hindutva. It is believed that political experiments in dividing society along communal lines for electoral gains are conducted here by the BJP and Sangh Parivar before replication in other parts of the state. Violent campaigns against social relationships between Hindus and minority communities, faux protection of Hindu culture against western influence have all had their teething in coastal Karnataka, over the years.
The Hindutva agenda laid down in the combustible coastal regions since the early 1990s has however never really fired the imagination of the rest of Karnataka which is more impoverished and also more laid back
Even in 2008 when the BJP first came to power on its own in Karnataka, and for the first time in southern India, it was not propelled into the Vidhana Soudha, the seat of power in the state, by divisive politics. It was a strong sympathy wave for one man, B S Yeddyurappa, from the dominant Lingayat community, who many felt had been wronged when he was denied the chance to be chief minister by a coalition partner.
Even while the BJP was in power in Karnataka, it pursued the Hindutva agenda only in spirit in the first few months when incidents of attacks on churches and pub-going women occurred in Dakshina Kannada. Eventually the BJP squandered the electoral inroads it made in Karnataka through a mix of severe infighting and corruption.
Now, with Karnataka on the threshold of state elections, and the BJP led by leaders who have successfully deployed communal tactics in states like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, the state is seeing an unprecedented number of communal incidents, especially in the coastal region.
A month ago, in December, incidents of communal violence occurred across three towns in Uttara Kannada district. Police who have investigated the origins and provocation, in the incidents in Honnavar, Kumta and Sirsi towns, believe that the incidents were engineered under false pretexts.
A BJP MP is under investigation for strategically inciting and funding the violence in Uttara Kannada. Another has been booked for inciting violence through social media.
In the first couple of weeks of the New Year the tension has shifted to Dakshina Kannada – where communal murders are common but with elections around the corner they are gaining political hues. The Sangh Parivar and its affiliates also seem keen to ratchet up incidents in the day to day lives of people by using issues like love jihad and protection of Hindu culture from western influence.
The ability of the right wing bandwagon to polarize the whole of Karnataka on communal lines is however in doubt.
Unlike the coastal parts, which has a lot of unemployed youth – despite a substantial number of people being well off on account of jobs in Arab countries — much of the rest of Karnataka is still agrarian, with existence often being hand to mouth. Here, politics based on development matter more than communal division.
Given the success it has enjoyed across the country with the Hindutva template the BJP seems to favour minority bashing or crying wolf over corruption under the Congress tenure as its main weapons.