The BJP has emerged as the single most popular party in yet another state of India, winning 105 out of 222 seats. The party is now within striking distance of power in another state, given that the Congress-JD(S) alliance does not topple its applecart. During the hard-fought campaign, indianexpress.com had taken to the Tipu trail to see if the controversial erstwhile Mysore ruler was still a factor in the regions in which his historical narratives continue to shape political opinions. With the Congress in power, Tipu Sultan’s presence was felt in state politics with the ruling party celebrating him as a nationalist hero on one hand and the BJP protesting against this celebration. Spanning across Srirangapatna, Mysore, Coorg, and Mangalore, we touched upon nine constituencies as part of the Tipu trail. Out of the nine, the BJP has come out with flying colours in six, while two have gone to the Congress and one to JD(S).
Srirangapatna, where the JD(S) has been in power since 2004, yet again saw JD(S) candidate Ravindra Srikantaiah emerging victorious. The constituency has historically alternated between the Congress and the Janata Dal previously. Being the erstwhile capital of Tipu Sultan, the remnants of the ruler can be seen and heard through the length and breadth of the region and contributes in significant ways to Srirangapatna’s tourism industry as well. Thanks to the sizeable Muslim population, the residents of the constituency has been more than favourable to the celebration of Tipu by the Congress government. However, despite this, the constituency has seen a re-emergence of JD(S), for the fourth consecutive term. However, it is also noteworthy that the region has been opposed to the BJP for a long time, and their opposition was evident this time as well, with most people citing religious conflicts in BJP ruling states as the major cause behind their displeasure.
Our next stop Mysore city is the seat of the Wodeyar dynasty. At present, it consists of three constituencies- Krishnaraja, Chamaraja, and Narasimharaja. Narasimharaja, with a sizeable Muslim population, has seen a continuous rule of the Congress, particularly by the Sait family since 1999. The seat has yet again voted for Tanveer Sait of the Congress. On the other hand, while the other two constituencies had sitting Congress MLAs since 2013, both the regions have voted the BJP back to power.
Mysore was the place from which Tipu’s father Hyder Ali first drew his strength. Ali, a soldier in the Wodeyar king’s army, had seized power from the latter and declared himself as the de facto ruler of the state. Tipu ambitiously built upon his father’s dreams, aggressively expanding its boundaries. The political opinions of Mysore voters have continued to be neatly divided between those who believe in the narrative of Tipu being a valiant freedom fighter and those who are of the opinion that Tipu did not just seize the Hindu king’s throne, but also tortured the Hindu population of the region. Consequently, the support or opposition they mete out to the Congress government’s celebration of Tipu, follow the same lines of political thought.
Interaction with the voters reveals that their opinion of the work done by the state government in the past five years is almost divided between those who celebrate Tipu and those who disregard him. Perhaps a resultant of the same is the victory of the BJP in the two Hindu dominated constituencies and the victory of the Congress in the Muslim dominated constituency.
Next in the Tipu trail came Coorg or Kodagu. The hilly district of Karnataka is known for an economy based on coffee plantations and also for being the point of origin of the revered river Kaveri. The district consists of two constituencies- Virajpet and Madikeri. Both these constituencies have been ruled by the BJP for the past three terms and have yet again voted in favour of the saffron party.
For the residents of Coorg, Tipu Sultan is a name that carries with it memories of terror, deceit, and disrespect. The dominant Kodava population, who are part of the larger Hindu fold, aggressively narrate tales of a haunting past, when the Mysore ruler stepped over them deceitfully, persecuting and forcibly converting them, to capture Kodagu in order to make it a gateway to the port city of Mangalore. Unsurprisingly, the Kodavas have vehemently protested against the celebration of Tipu Sultan by the Congress government. The Congress has historically been unpopular here, as a large section of the region’s population continues to carry bitter sentiments against the party’s efforts at merging the previously C-state region with Karnataka. Further, interaction with the dominant planter population of the region reveals that they have been rather disappointed with Siddaramaiah’s welfare measures as providing free or highly subsidised commodities has led to labour problems for them.
It is also to be noted that voters repeatedly revealed their dissatisfaction with the work of the two BJP candidates, particularly their inability to deal with local issues of environment, infrastructure, and communal tensions. However, both the candidates have returned to power for a fourth consecutive term, despite strong anti-incumbency.
Our last stop on the Tipu trail was the port city of Mangalore. The city consists of three constituencies – Mangalore city north, Mangalore city south and Mangalore. All three of them had Congress ruling over them since 2013. However, the current electoral battle has seen the emergence of BJP as the winner in Mangalore city south and Mangalore city north, while Mangalore has gone to the Congress.
Lying on the banks of the Arabian sea, Mangalore was crucial to both the British and to Tipu Sultan, both of whom were desperate to control it for the sake of political and economic gains. However, in the process of wiping out the British, Tipu came down strongly on the Kanara Christian population of the region whom he suspected of assisting the former. At present, both the local Hindu and Christian population have opposed the Congress government’s celebration of the Sultan. But, while the Hindus have been evidently opposed to it, the Kanara Christians have been far more silent in their protest against a government they have historically supported since 1947.
Majority of the Kanara Christians continue to profess their loyalty towards the Congress, citing the welfare measures taken by the state government and the infrastructure related measures taken by the local MLAs. Further, the 2008 attack on Mangalorean Christians by Hindu right-wing groups is also a factor noted by them in considering Congress to be lesser of the two evils. However, interaction with the Hindu voters of the region also revealed a thorough dissatisfaction with the Congress, whom they blame for appeasement of minorities to the extent that the majority Hindu population feels neglected. Also noticed among the voters was a need for a change in governance, which has been determined in two out of the three constituencies that have voted for the BJP.