Karnataka Elections 2018: As Uttar Kannada Rejects ‘Hindu-Muslim’ Politics, Parties Race to Play Development Card

Karwar (Uttar Kannada): The smell of fish hits you as you mingle with the ladies selling it on the beaches of Karwar, which the Karnataka government has been trying to develop and pitch as a counter to Goa.

The calm of the beautiful coastal stretch of Karnataka is occasionally shattered by drum beats of party workers. Some of them approach the ladies selling fish, trying to beat the intense competition. The women are visibly irritated as they see political intrusions as a waste of time and money.

Congress and BJP workers chat nearby as Rahul Gandhi gears up to hit the coastal belt or Uttar Kannada as it’s called.

This is also the area of Anantkumar Hegde who has been one of the most vitriolic campaigners for the BJP. His supporters say it’s important for the BJP to do well if Hegde’s reign is to continue in this region.
In 2013, the BJP faced a drubbing and the Congress is in no mood to relent and give way. Hegde has played the Hindu card to the hilt in this area, even asking party chief Amit shah to visit homes of Hindu activists killed in communal violence. Uttar Kannada has eight seats up for grabs and hence quite crucial to all stakeholders for the battle ahead.

The Congress, too, is wasting no opportunity to play the Hindu card as is evident by Rahul Gandhi’s tour schedule, which included the influential and venerated Dharmasthala and the Murudeshwara temples.

Locals say that as always, politicians don’t feel the pulse. “We want uninterrupted power supply. We want Karwar to be developed as a hub so there are more jobs for locals. We don’t care for temples or Hindu-Muslim issues. Each communal fight robs us of our livelihood,” says a local.

The sleepy town of Bhatkal, which had hogged headlines over Yaseen Bhatkal, the brain behind the Indian Mujahideen, wants more. There are several schools and small businesses coming up, but this is not enough. There is little time for religious matters.

This rejection of the polarising strategies of both the Congress and BJP has left the parties worried. And Hegde’s team says it’s not easy.

As Rahul Gandhi hit Uttar Kannada, criss-crossing through Hegde’s territory, the latter flew down to Delhi to meet with his party bosses. Sources say he is facing criticism from the leadership and that a change in strategy is likely.

What’s worse is that Hegde faces open rebellion from local BJP leaders over ticket distribution. Sitting in his office in the temple town of Murudeshwara, a leader says, “I hoped for a ticket. I have been working for years here. Delhi told me Hegde will take care of me. But his men have been favoured. We have been asked to counter Rahul’s temple visits. Is that all we are meant to do?”

The party has some hope from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit. They hope his stress on development and governance would change the narrative from the ‘Hindu-Muslim’ issues that find little resonance on ground.

Uttar Kannada, which has seen much communal strife, is now clearly looking for change.

The Congress is not immune to anger in the region. In Bhatkal, the largely Muslim population has a grudge too. Though Rahul’s rally here was well-attended, locals say the ‘Hindu push’ makes them feel unwanted. “Let him visit as many temples as he wants, but give us jobs.” The Congress manifesto does promise this, but there is little trust left.

Ishwar Naik, a BJP leader and close aide of Hegde, says, “We don’t want to play this Hindu thing, but then we are Hindus and that’s what people want.”

The problem is that the BJP has put up with Hegde’s rants for long and even when they disapproved of it, they hoped it would work for them. Hegde’s growing unpopularity is a matter of concern in a region which is now turning out to be a prestige battle.

Sources say that as the PM’s visit nears, Hegde has been asked to go slow and keep a low profile. The BJP hopes the PM’s charm would work here. The Congress hopes that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s work in these areas would be the answer.

Unfortunately for these politicians, this is no longer what people seem to want from the political parties and they are asking for better facilities.

With the clock ticking, the netas have a lot of catching up to do.

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