Bengaluru: It’s a blazing hot day and florist Anand Poojary is busy taking orders on the phone from his small shop, located on a busy main road in Moodbidari town in Dakshina Kannada district—about 350km from Bengaluru.
Poojary is well known among the locals as the father of Prashant Poojary, a Bajrang Dal worker who was killed in October 2015.
More than 200km away, Kamalakar Mesta, father of 21-year-old Paresh Mesta, gets ready to hand over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flag that would kick-start the “Karnataka Suraksha Yatre”, dubbed Hindutva Padayatre, from Ankola, Uttara Kannada district.
Prashant Poojary’s association with right-wing groups was no secret. However, Paresh Mesta, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances in December last year, had no known links with Hindutva organizations. Still, Kamalakar Mesta now supports the BJP because to him it stands up for Hindus.
Heading into assembly elections, BJP has left little to chance in communally sensitive coastal Karnataka by highlighting topics like the attacks on people associated with Hindu right-wing workers, cow slaughter and love jihad among other contentious issues. The BJP terms these killings communally motivated and targets the ruling Congress as anti-Hindu. The BJP wants a repeat of its 2008 assembly elections performance where it bagged 14 of the 24 assembly seats in the four districts of coastal Karnataka (including Chikmagalur).
BJP has stood by the families of victims while the Congress has done little to comfort them. Anand Poojary never got a visit from the local Congress legislator after his son was killed but right-wing groups have given him almost Rs20 lakh and cleared all his debts. He has even given Rs1 lakh to another victim’s family.
The story is similar with other victims although some have received government compensation.
BJP claims over 23 people associated with right-wing organizations have been killed in the last two years. The state government has denied this.
Although the police are yet to complete the probe on Mesta’s death, BJP has termed it communal and diluting any subsequent clarifications by the authorities.
Efforts by the Congress to highlight the fact that most victims belong to backward classes (its main support base) and target BJP’s upper class dominated politics have failed to cut ice in a region where religion plays a greater role than caste.
Of the 24 assembly seats in coastal Karnataka (including Chikmagalur), the Congress bagged 14 in the 2013 elections while the BJP managed only five. However, all three parliamentary seats—Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi-Chikmagalur—went with the BJP in 2014.
To be sure, at least 11 Muslim youths have also been killed in communally triggered incidents, according to the state government.
A notification by the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government to withdraw cases against “innocent minorities” (mainly Muslims) arrested in communal cases, has not helped either.