The assembly elections in 2013 saw the highest voter turnout in coastal Karnataka in 35 years. In Mangalore, thousands of NRIs reportedly returned just to cast their vote.
The BJP won three of 21 assembly segments in the three coastal districts where, during its rule, Hindutva activists had attacked a pub, a homestay resort, hundreds of inter-community couples and dozens of churches.
A section of Karnataka’s intelligentsia hailed the saffron party’s rout and the Congress’ return to power as a ‘referendum’ against communalism.
But last Friday, Rahul Gandhi was welcomed into Mangalore by angry, black flag-waving women.
The immediate trigger for the agitation was police sloth in taking action against 30 Hindutva activists behind Sunday’s sexual assault on a Congress corporator. The protestors wanted to know how the ruling party would protect ordinary women if it could not protect one of its own.
Indications are that a series of blunders by local Congress leaders is denting the party’s claims of being a genuine secular alternative.
This is a district where seven out of eight MLAs belong to the Congress. Yet, in the first nine months of the party’s rule there were 100 incidents of communal violence (see graphics).
When Hindutva activists attacked dozens of cattle vans during Bakrid last October, local MLA and health minister UT Khader asked the police commissioner to quit if he couldn’t curb sale and transport of livestock.
Muslims, who faced an acute shortage of meat for the festival, were left seething with rage.
In February, when communal riots broke out in Khader’s constituency, Ullal, several fact-finding missions found that the police had selectively targeted Muslims.
Today, several gram panchayats in Ullal have decided to boycott the polls and Congress campaigners are being prevented from entering these areas.
The gang that molested the Congress woman attacked at least a dozen inter-faith couples in the area in the last year, admits local MLA Moideen Bawa.
Yet he fails to explain why the gang hasn’t been busted. “We are helpless. Most policemen are communal-minded,” Bawa says.
On March 24 the district Congress inducted pub attack-accused Dinakar Shetty into the party. He was dumped within hours when women’s groups protested.
Mahendra Kumar, who led the 2008 church attacks for the Bajrang Dal, is bitter about Hindutva politics after he was arrested under BJP rule. “Both the Congress and the BJP depend on communal polarisation. The BJP forgets Hindutva when it comes to power while the Congress forgets secularism,” he says.