New development board, dropped cases: How BJP is wooing its vote bank in coastal Karnataka

Sets up Sri Narayana Guru Development Corporation for Billava-Ediga community, a key BJP vote bank in parts of coastal Karnataka and Malnad.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Feb 22, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdated Apr 25, 2023 | 3:29 PM

New development board, dropped cases: How BJP is wooing its vote bank in coastal Karnataka

With anti-incumbency posing a key challenge in the run-up to the Karnataka Assembly polls 2023, the BJP is pulling out all stops to retain its core vote base.

Even as the party attempts to make inroads into regions like Old Mysuru, where is doesn’t have a forceful presence, the BJP is focusing on retaining its traditional bastion of coastal Karnataka.

The Basavaraj Bommai-led government is, for instance, making a special effort to appease the influential Ediga-Billava community.

Accommodating demands of such communities, withdrawing cases against Hindutva activists, and promising official language status to Tulu are only the latest attempts by the BJP to woo it’s vote banks in three districts of coastal Karnataka — Udupi, Uttara Kannada and Dakshina Kannada.

Development board for Billava-Ediga

The state government has sanctioned the long-pending demand of the Billava-Ediga community, belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), by setting up a Sri Narayana Guru Development Corporation on Monday, 20 February.

The Billava-Ediga are influential in the coastal areas and parts of the Malnad region.

Chief Minister Bommai tweeted: “The long-pending demand of the Billava/Ediga community of having a separate development corporation has been set-up. This corporation will work for the overall development of the 26 major sub-castes including the Billava/Ediga.”

Welcoming the decision of the government, Bajrang Dal leader Sharan Pumpwell, who belongs to the Billava community, told South First: “We were fighting for the past many years to get a separate development corporation for the Billava community. The government has fulfilled it. We express our gratitude to the government.”

“This has not been done because elections are round the corner. These works should not be seen only through an election viewpoint. This will help in the development of many backward classes in the community,” Sharan Pumpwell said, denying the government has set up the new corporation to appease the Billava-Ediga.

Much of the muscle power of the Hindutva outfits comes from the Billava, Ediga and Mogaveera communities in coastal Karnataka. Most often, it is youngsters from these communities who are booked in cases of moral policing, assault, and communal riots involving Hindutva outfits.

It may be recalled that the Bommai government, in its interim budget last week, announced the setting up of Sri Narayana Guru Residential Schools in Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Shivamogga districts. Each school is being developed at a cost of ₹18 crore.

Sri Narayana Guru was a revered spiritual leader and social reformer from Kerala.

He was born into an Ezhava family in the 19th century and is celebrated across the southern states, especially by members of the Ezhavas and Thiyyas in Kerala and the Billava-Ediga in Karnataka.

These communities were known to be associated with toddy tapping and liquor business in the past.

Cases against Hindutva workers withdrawn

In a not-so-surprising move, Chief Minister Bommai ordered withdrawal of cases registered against BJP workers, the local MLA, and Hindu activists for the riots following the death of Paresh Mesta in December 2017.

Sirsi MLA Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri is now the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly.

The decision to withdraw cases was taken at a Cabinet meeting held at Vidhana Soudha on Monday. The government has withdrawn the cases against 112 people in three different cases in the Sirsi police limits.

Related: Paresh Mesta death accidental, not communal, says CBI

Paresh Mesta of Honnavar was found dead in a tank on 6 December, 2017. BJP workers, Hindutva outfits like Bajrang Dal, and Sirsi MLA Vishweshwar Kageri, protested against the “killing” of Mesta, alleging it to be the handiwork of Muslims during a communal riot.

The protest led to communal tensions across the district. There were also communal riots in Honnavar and Sirsi.

Over a hundred people from both the Hindu and Muslim communities were booked. A case was also registered against Sirsi MLA Kageri in 2017. Hindutva activists went on a rampage, setting even an IPS officer’s car ablaze in the protests against Paresh Mesta’s death.

It may be recalled that the BJP and right-wing organisations gave the death of 18-year-old Paresh Mesta a communal spin and used it as a poll issue, the CBI has concluded that it was an accidental death.

Even after the Karnataka police clarified that there was no evidence that Mesta was murdered, leaders of the BJP, including Union Minister of State for Agriculture Shobha Karandlaje and BJP national general secretary CT Ravi protested he was tortured for days and killed by Muslims.

Related: No comment, says Karandlaje as CBI deems Mesta death accidental

Under severe pressure, the then chief minister Siddaramaiah entrusted the investigation to the CBI. After a five-year investigation, the CBI filed a closure report suggesting that Mesta’s death was caused due to drowning and not by torture.

The cases withdrawn by the Bommai government are under the Sirsi police station. Sources said the government has not withdrawn at least four cases in the Paresh Mesta rioting case under the Honnavar police jurisdiction.

“There are at least 80 to 90 people booked in each case reported during the Paresh Mesta riots in Honnavara. The accused in the Mesta murder case were the only ones who got relief [following the CBI closure report] from the incident in Honnavar,” the sources said.

‘An election eyewash’  

Karnataka’s Congress unit has lashed out at the government for appeasing certain communities and withdrawing cases registered against BJP party workers, leaders and Hindutva outfits.

Karnataka Legislative Council Opposition leader BK Hariprasad told South First: “The efforts of the BJP government to set up a development corporation for Billava-Ediga is an election eyewash. People are hurt and unhappy with the performance of the BJP government.”

“It is strange that the Karnataka government has announced the setting up of residential schools named after Sri Narayana Guru in the coastal districts. Whereas, the Union government disrespected the social reformer by rejecting a Kerala tableau with the Guru for Republic Day in 2022.”

“This clearly displays the dual standards of the ruling party. This is just an effort to appease the Billava-Ediga communities ahead of the Assembly polls,” Hariprasad contended.

On the withdrawal of cases against 112 people, including Speaker Kageri, Hariprasad said: “This is nothing new in the BJP-ruled states. This culture is being practiced by the saffron cadre. This party not only released Bilkis Bano’s rapists but also gave them a rousing welcome and also party tickets to contest in the Gujarat Assembly polls.”

“This is a poll strategy to create terror among the people ahead of the Assembly polls. We have to fight against it,” Hariprasad added.

Pontiffs ask BJP to fulfil 10 demands

A group of pontiffs of prominent mathas in Coastal Karnataka, led by Pejawar Matha pontiff Sri Vishwaprasanna Teertha Swamiji, submitted a memorandum to the BJP National President JP Nadda demanding the Union government fulfil various demands of the coastal region.

Among the 10 demands put forward by the pontiffs are the setting up of a unit of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to curb anti-national and terror activities in coastal Karnataka, giving proper recognition to Tulu language and prominence to the culture and thoughts of Sanathan Dharma, and providing acorruption-free, clean and transparent governance.