The Bharatiya Janata Party suffered a serious setback in its bastion — coastal Karnataka — in the urban local body (ULB) elections, putting it in a spot of bother ahead of the Assembly elections on May 5.
Now, the question is whether the defeat can be attributed to the aggressive Hindutva agenda the party and its affiliates pursued here over the last five years and if these activities alienated the youth from the party.
Series of attacks
Since 2009 and as recently as early March, the region witnessed a series of attacks on churches. There have been vigilante attacks — big and small — including the pub attack and ‘home stay’ attack in Mangalore in which young men and women were thrashed. These attacks caught national attention. The perpetrators were seen as immune to the rule of law and protected by the ruling party.
The BJP saw a 10 per cent decline in the number of seats it won in the recent ULB elections in coastal Karnataka compared with the 2007 polls. The biggest blow was in the Udupi Municipal Council, which went to the Congress after over four decades.
Political observers say that people’s rejection of the militant face of Hindutva may be one explanation for this. However, various other factors related to anti-incumbency and disillusionment of the people who believed the BJP to be a “party with a difference” also contributed strongly to the change in the political tide.
Associate professor at Mangalore University Rajaram Tolpady pointed out that the “bodily attack” as in the case of the ‘home stay’ case of July 28, 2012, came to be criticised by “people of all ideologies.”
Militant Hindutva poses “a big threat to individual liberty which nobody tolerates,” he said.
Retired professor at St. Aloysius College Rolphie Mascarenhas said minorities had been apprehensive since the beginning of the BJP government’s term and their fears had come true. The ULB election results could partly be because of the cumulative effect of this, he said.
The incidents were not isolated, but appeared to be the handiwork of an “organ of the government.” But a stronger reason for the vote against the party was the utter disappointment of people about the very governance of the BJP. “There was no government from day one,” he said.
But political analyst G. Rajashekar suggested that the Hindutva ideology had ramifications beyond the context of elections. He hoped that the party’s poor show would create a self-doubt about Hindutva politics.
Prof. Mascarenhas suggested that it was desertion of the BJP followers that caused the damage. Even K. Ram Bhat Urimajalu, former Puttur MLA, who rebelled against the interference of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in BJP matters, said that “breach of trust” by the party that went against its promise of a corruption-free and selfless governance was to be blamed for its debacle in the ULB elections. He does not accept that Hindutva agenda of the party had anything to do with it.
Mr. Tolpady said that Hindutva would not work as a long-term strategy and the BJP would realise this sooner than later. He gave the example of Narendra Modi in Gujarat who no longer speaks of Hindutva but keeps harping on the more acceptable “development” agenda.
Experts point out that people in rural areas are much more disillusioned with the BJP than the urban voters, who expressed their preference in ULB elections.