With the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 just days away, South First is bringing you ground reports from key constituencies. This series brings you voices from the ground, the mood of the voters, and issues that matter — as well as those that don’t — as people make up their minds on who they will elect in the upcoming Assembly elections.
Amnesia, originally, is Greek for “forgetfulness”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a medical condition in which somebody partly or completely loses their memory”.
Rewind to 24 January, 2009, Mangalore — now Mangaluru. A gang of 40 men barged into a pub, Amnesia — the Lounge, and attacked a group of young women and men, alleging that the pub-going women were violating India’s traditional values.
India took note of the “surgical strike”, apparently known to at least a few television news channels in advance. The gang belonged to the Sri Rama Sene, founded by Pramod Muthalik on July 11, 2005.
The attack was widely condemned, and a “Pink Chaddi (underwear) Campaign” was launched. The campaigners couriered cartons of used undergarments — mostly pink — to Muthalik, protesting against the Sene’s moral policing.
The protest did not end with the non-violent campaign, spearheaded by the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose, and Forward Women, the brainchild of a woman journalist.
Muthalik issued a threat to go around with a priest and get couples seen together on Valentine’s Day married.
The plan did not go as he expected. Instead, he got his face smeared with black ink while attending an interactive session in Bengaluru.
Incidentally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) condemned the attack on youngsters in Mangaluru. So did the then chief minister BS Yediyurappa. Muthalik later apologised for the attack.
Muthalik has since moved on. But not many have forgotten the attack on weekend revellers at Amnesia.
South First survey: Price rise, corruption top ‘problems’ for voters
Politics for Hindutva
Fast forward to May 2023. An SUV moved slowly through Kukkundoor village in Karkala taluk. A loudspeaker fastened to it explained why independent candidate Pramod Muthalik is seeking the voters’ support in the 10 May Assembly election.
“It’s not Hindutva for politics, but politics for Hindutva,” the loudspeaker blared the recorded message.
Muthalik, with his trademark smile and folded hands, looked at the electorate from the flex boards attached to the vehicle, even as the loudspeaker requested the people to make him victorious from Udupi’s Karkala constituency.
Auto-rickshaw driver Yousuf looked at the vehicle with a deadpan expression as it passed his three-wheeler stand.
“Muthalik will easily get some 8,000 to 10,000 votes,” he told South First. “A few supporters of minister V Sunil Kumar had crossed the floor to Muthalik’s camp. They have vowed to ensure his victory.”
He added that the hardcore rightwing leader has considerable clout in a few pockets, such as Bailoor, Eedu, Nellikara, etc.
The recorded message from the SUV faded away in the distance. About 10 minutes later, drum beats reverberated in the area as a group of young men and women, all clad in saffron tops, descended on the junction.
They presented several skits, one of them highlighting the BJP’s Bhagyalakshmi Yojane, a scheme to promote the birth of girl children in below-poverty-line families.
The skits were simple and in the local dialect. Interestingly, none of them mentioned the candidate for whom the group was canvassing. It was understood that they were seeking votes for BJP’s Sunil Kumar.
Ground Report: Congress and BJP locked in a fierce battle in Chittapur
A party pooper for BJP?
Naveen, a businessman in Kukkundoor, predicted a tough fight between the BJP and the Congress.
“The anti-incumbency feeling is palpable,” he told South First. “A significant number of votes will swing in favour of the Congress as it has fielded Udaya Kumar Shetty, a young and dashing leader from the Bunt community,” he explained.
“There are around 30,000 Bunt votes in Karkala which will go to him,” Naveen sounded confident.
He hastened to add that though Karkala is a BJP stronghold, Muthalik might play spoilsport by eating into the saffron party’s vote bank.
A straight road connects Kukkundoor with Karkala Town. The sitting MLA has been claiming credit for the recently-laid road.
The police have barricaded the road at several places to ensure the smooth conduct of the famous Karkala Rathotsava, the festival of the Shri Venkataramana Devasthana.
A huge ground next to the temple in the residential neighbourhood has been converted into a parking lot. Devotees were seen carrying Pallakis — or palanquins — to the temple.
The temple is one among the several places of worship of many religions in Karkala, a town that dates back to the 10th century.
Nine in limelight
Nine candidates, including four independent candidates, are in the fray in the Karkala Assembly segment.
Besides Udaya Shetty (Congress) and Sunil Kumar (BJP), Srikantha Poojary (Janata Dal-Secular), Daniel Fedrick Ranjar (Aam Aadmi Party), and Arun Deepak Mendonca of the Uttama Prajakeeya Party are seeking the mandate
Muthalik, Dr Mamatha Hegde, Vidyalaxmi, and Sudhakara Acharya are the independents.
Karkala is divided into 23 wards. According to the 2011 census, the Karkala Town Municipal Council has a population of 25,800, comprising 12,627 men and 13,173 women.
In 2018, the Karkala Vidhan Sabha constituency had 1,81,031 voters.
Hindus form 76.5 percent of the population, followed by Muslims (14.9 percent), and Christians (5.87 percent).
The dominant Hindu castes are Billavas, Bunts (Shettys), Brahmins, Mogaveeras, and other backward castes.
The candidate selection
“Though Gopal Bhandary, a close aide of former chief minister M Veerappa Moily, is considered to be humble and clean, he is not as aggressive or charismatic as Shetty, who started working in the constituency for quite some time now, businessman Naveen said.
“It has been rumoured that Veerappa Moily wanted to field his son Harsha Moily as the Congress candidate. But he is not popular, and hence the Congress high command zeroed-in on Udaya Shetty,” he explained.
Naveen also referred to the Congress’s poll promise of 200 units of power to households.
“People are now paying anywhere between ₹1,500-₹2,000 as electricty charges a month. The Congress’s poll promise will be a relief to us,” he added.
BJP’s Kumar is trying for a hat-trick after winning the segment in 2013 and 2018.
In 2018, Kumar defeated H Gopal Bhandary of the Congress by a comfortable margin of 42,273 votes. The voter turnout then was around 1,45,935. In the 2013, elections, Kumar pipped Bhandary by 4,254 votes.
Ground Report: In Bhatkal, it is BJP vs Congress — and Tanzeem’s last word
Modi in play
Senior citizen K Mohan Das Mallya attempted a comparison of three candidates, Muthalik, Shetty and Kumar.
“Pramod Muthalik harps on Hindutva. Udaya Kumar Shetty has done good work here. Sunil Kumar is a minister and he has also performed well for Karkala,” he told South First.
“We have been voting for the BJP. But there are some hiccups locally this time. We know well our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s contribution to the country. I expect Kumar to win by a margin of between 15,000 to 20,000 votes,” he did not hide his preference.
Another resident Sheshagiri seconded Mallya. He said Kumar would win by a margin of at least 10,000 votes.
“Though he is in Bengaluru, he has worked for the constituency. He is a good man,” he said.
On some of Kumar’s supporters backing Muthalik, Seshagiri said: “Such groupism exists everywhere. It will be sorted out. It will not affect Kumar’s fortunes in Karkala.”
However, Jayanthi Kudva, another voter, does not think highly of Kumar. “Sunil Kumar has done nothing. But Modi is BJP and we will vote in his favour,” she affirmed.