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.
Bhoota has a negative connotation — but not in Udupi.
The Tulu-speaking region located some 55 km from Mangaluru revers bhoota — or ghost — as god, the guardians of villages.
Udupi wears its reverence towards bhootas on its sleeve. Posters of bhootas — Panjurli, Guliga, Jumadi, Varthe, and Kalkuda — adorn the walls of hotel receptions and other commercial establishments.
Posters of Kanatara, too, have found their way into such establishments.
Besides bhootas, photographs of Kambala, the traditional bull races that have made Katpadi in Udupi and Polali in Mangaluru famous, too, jostle for space on the walls of several commercial establishments.
The sitting MLA of Udupi, BJP’s Raghupathi Bhat, however, does not have a pride of place in Udupi’s heart like the bhootas or Kambala.
The BJP, apparently, has sensed the negative vibes Bhat has been creating.
The party did not field him for the May 10 Assembly polls. Instead, it has nominated Yashpal Anand Suvarna, a businessman and the national general secretary of the party’s OBC Morcha, in its bid to retain the seat.
The BJP seems to be keen on riding Suvarna’s popularity. He was in the news recently for his anti-hijab stand. Religious sentiments run deep in the segment and the poll managers are capitalising on it for their respective parties’ benefit.
A recent WhatsApp forward “categorically” stated that the Congress, if voted to power, would allow beef in the segment. It was a piece of (mis)information a large section of the electorate could not digest.
Udupi is deep-rooted in religion. The Sri Krishna Temple is a renowned destination for Hindus. Mythology has it that the Lord Krishna’s idol mysteriously turned west towards a crack in the wall so that it could give darshan to Kanaka Dasa, a Haridasa saint and philosopher.
Kanaka Dasa was prohibited from entering the temple, thinking he was a member of the lower caste. The belief is that he took darshan of the Lord through the crack and the idol, which was facing east, turned west so that its devotee could have a better look.
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Despite its strong religious inclination, the voters seem to be harbouring a dislike towards the sitting MLA. Several people South First spoke to, did not hide their disappointment.
Yet, it is the BJP that is their preference, even if the candidate is “undeserving”.
The reason: They all respect Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and any BJP candidate is his representative.
The temple town of Udupi has a population of 1,25,306, according to the 2011 census.
Men comprise 49.45 percent of the population, while women outnumber their male counterparts. They form 50.54 percent of the population.
Hindus form the majority with 84.74 percent, followed by 8.04 percent Muslims and 6.91 percent Christians.
In 2018, the Udupi Vidhan Sabha constituency had 2,07,458 registered voters.
Development takes a back seat
Vasudev Acharya, a pharmacist at Thenkepete, said a majority of people want the BJP back in power. However, he felt the candidate to be below par.
“I am a resident of Gundibailu, which has a vote bank of around 400. We have our houses in the locality with narrow walkways called Ooni where two people hardly can walk side-by-side,” he told South First.
“We requested MLA Raghupathi Bhat to do something since it is difficult even to carry a dead body with dignity. The MLA said he would look into it but did nothing,” Acharya`said.
Sensing the general disapproval, the BJP fielded Suvarna, the poster boy of the “anti-hijab” campaign that originated at the Udupi’s Government PU College for Girls.
The candidate had spoken against girls fighting for their “right” to wear hijab in classrooms.
“India will be the first country in the world to outlaw hijab and halal before France,” Suvarna said during the peak of the hijab controversy in 2022.
The Congress candidate for Udupi, Prasad Raj Kanchan, is not as popular as Suvarna. Though he has considerable clout as the son of BB Kanchan and Congress leader Sarala Kanchan of Brahmmavar, he is not quite acceptable to the working class. Former MLA from Congress in the segment – Pramod Madhwaraj is popular but is now with the BJP.
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Kanchan is known only as an automobile entrepreneur in Udupi. So is his mother Sarala.
Acharya said that though Bhat is openly supporting BJP’s decision to field Suvarna, he did all the background work, anticipating another term.
Civic issues such as flooding during heavy rains and poor underground drainage systems are the bane of the segment, but no candidate seems to be interested in these issues.
Being a BJP stronghold, most people will vote for the party’s candidate. “We have requested for roads and underground drainage projects,” Acharya said.
“There is no drinking water supply and most of us depend on well water,” he added.
The trend here in Udupi over the past couple of decades is that either a leader from the Brahmin community or a Mogaveera, the fishermen community, would win.
While the incumbent MLA Bhat is from the Brahmin community, Suvarna is a Mogaveera – an OBC community whose members form the foot soldiers of Hindutva outfits in the region.
Both Sadananda and Vishwanatha are 49, childhood friends, and auto-rickshaw drivers — and mighty miffed.
They said the hijab issue overshadowed development, affecting their livelihood.
“We could be termed ‘brilliant fools’ as almost all of us are educated at least up to some level,” Sadananda told South First, referring to the support the BJP has been enjoying.
“I refused three rides today to a destination on Udupi-Malpe Road, as the roads are very bad. We cannot overtake any vehicle and have to tail them all along the stretch. If we ask for a little extra fare, the passengers would frown upon us. They are the same people who supported the government in the hijab controversy,” he added.
The BJP government in Karnataka has been opposed to girls wearing hijab in classrooms.
Sadananda further said that the auto-rickshaw drivers had submitted a representation seeking shelter to Pramod Madhwaraj when he was the MLA from Congress.
“He turned down our request for the auto-rickshaw shelter near the school saying it would become an eyesore and subsequently affect his vote bank,” Sadananda said.
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“Prasad Raj Kanchan is a new face and people hardly know him. He is known only because of his mother, who had worked in the Brahmavar constituency earlier. Otherwise, he is known here only as a Hyundai showroom owner,” Vishwanatha said of the Congress candidate.
They opined that the BJP will garner more votes in the town and areas near temples. But on the outskirts of Udupi, people will vote for the Congress due to the anti-incumbency factor.
“The working class is upset over the rampant price rise and GST, and they want a change,” Sadananda explained.
Vishwanatha recollected an incident that happened a few days ago.
“I received a WhatsApp message recently saying that if the Congress comes into power, it will allow beef supply throughout Udupi. I was wondering who wants it here when people have the choice to decide on what to eat,” he said.
Sridhar Rao, a stationery shop owner in Thenkepete, told South First that people have been favouring the BJP for about two decades.
“They have done good work for the people. Pro-BJP organisations, too, have a strong presence here. However, there are no development activities that are worth mentioning. The sitting MLA responds to our requests without delay,” he said.
“Initially, there was confusion when Raghupathi Bhat was denied a ticket, but his statements cleared it. He made a public statement that the party is bigger than any individual. My hunch is that the BJP will win again,” he added.