The one region in Karnataka where the Narendra Modi factor is clearly in play for the Lok Sabha elections is in the coastal districts — encompassing the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi-Chikmagalur constituencies — where Hindutva and nationalistic streaks run strong.
It is the only region in the state where the BJP and Sangh Parivar, in the course of their campaign, frequently refer to the beheading of Indian soldiers by Pakistan, Chinese intrusions into Arunachal and the terrorist activities of Yasin Bhatkal and the Indian Mujahideen.
The choice of Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has reinvigorated the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and other Sangh Parivar constituents in the region to such an extent that internal differences, which contributed to the BJP’s loss of ground in the region in the 2013 assembly polls, have been set aside.
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Top Sangh Parivar leaders, including senior RSS leader Ram Bhat who stayed away from soliciting votes in the assembly polls — the BJP won only one of the eight seats in its Dakshina Kannada stronghold — are actively campaigning for the BJP, in the name of Hindutva and nation building.
At the RSS’s recent Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Bangalore, Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat may have told the cadres that it was not their job to sing Modi’s praises and they should engage in the task of nation building, but in the coastal districts, Sangh workers are singing the nation building song in the NaMo, NaMo tune.
“This is a special situation. This is a time for building the nation and we believe this is the time to hand over the responsibility to a special person — Narendra Modi. We may have stayed away from the MLA elections but this time it is about national security, internal security and all other national causes,’’ said a top Sangh Parivar leader in Mangalore.
With as many as 40,000 shakhas in Dakshina Kannada, the Sangh Parivar is known to have a huge network of workers who can reach out to the electorate. It is believed to have harnessed this network to create a Hindutva laboratory in coastal Karnataka to gain political power.
The assembly polls in May 2013 was the first time in nearly 20 years that BJP candidates in the coastal region did not have the numbers and muscle of the Sangh Parivar behind them, leading to a humiliating loss — also partly aided by public sentiment against acts of violence and atrocities on women and youth in the name of Hindutva by Sangh Parivar groups during the BJP rule in 2008-13.
“We need a person who can handle national security and address development issues. We need somebody to build India, and it is Modi. Our effort is to use our network to get all the voters to the polling booths. It is Modi for India and India for Modi,’’ said a Sangh Parivar leader, who has been in one of the 36 Sangh organisations for over 30 years, on condition of anonymity.
He was among several top Sangh Parivar workers who stayed away from the BJP’s assembly campaign in Karnataka, following disgruntlement over the failure of the first BJP government in south India to pursue the Hindutva agenda and unhappiness with BJP and Sangh leaders for filling their own coffers.
“This time, the presence of Modi and the prospect of addressing national issues is overriding everything else, including differences in the Sangh. We are sure of success in Dakshina Kannada and the Udupi-Chikmagalur seats. Almost everyone is united in their purpose,’’ said the Sangh leader.
According to him, the BJP, by including the issues of Ram Temple, Uniform Civil Code and Article 370 in its election manifesto, has promised to address core Hindutva issues.
“There is a sense of belief among the Sangh workers that even if Modi does not overtly talk about Hindutva issues, he will not betray Hindutva in any way. There is a feeling that he will look after nation building and security as well,’’ said another senior Sangh Parivar worker.
What the Modi factor has done for the BJP candidates in Dakshina Kannada and the Udupi-Chikmagalur constituencies is wipe out internal differences over the choice of nominees.
In Dakshina Kannada, while Sangh Parivar functionaries do not hold sitting MP Nalin Kumar Kateel in high regard, they have decided to overlook his shortcomings and focus on helping Modi to win. In Udupi-Chikmagalur, while there was initial resistance to the candidature of Shobha Karandlaje from a local leader, C T Ravi, the latter is now actively campaigning for her.
“In their heart of hearts the Sangh Parivar workers want to ignore local differences and vote for Modi. They are setting aside fears of co-existing with the MPs they elect for this reason,’’ said the senior Sangh Parivar leader.
“While the BJP campaign at the national level may not be focusing on Hindutva issues, at the local level, in places like Mangalore, the campaigns are consistently focused on Hindutva and communal issues. The votes are being sought in the name of Modi, not the local candidate,’’ said Prof Rajaram Tolpady, a professor of political science at the Mangalore University.
Incidentally, cases have been booked against several Sangh Parivar leaders, including top RSS leader Dr Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka, for making communal speeches.