Mangaluru Lok Sabha Election: Karnataka's Ancient Port City Witnesses Yet Another Hindutva vs Congress Fight
Mangaluru Lok Sabha Election: Karnataka's Ancient Port City Witnesses Yet Another Hindutva vs Congress Fight
Since 1991, Mangaluru, or the Dakshina Kannada seat, has continuously elected a BJP member to Parliament. This time the BJP has denied a ticket to its three-term MP and former state president Nalin Kumar Kateel and has fielded a young face, Captain Brijesh Chowta. The Congress has fielded Billava Padmaraj, who is a lawyer by profession

Perhaps Mangaluru is the only city in the world, which has so many names in so many languages. It is Mangaluru in Kannada, Mangalore in English, Kudla in Tulu, Kodiyala in Konkani, Maikhal in Beary, Mangalapuram in Malayalam, Manjarur in Arabic, and Manjarun in Persian. And a three-year-old child speaks in three languages — Kannada, Tulu, and Konkani, and sometimes Beary.

It is an ancient city. The Greek astronomer and explorer of the 2nd Century, Ptolemy, makes a mention of Mangalore in his book “Geography”.

In his 1990 book, In An Antique Land, renowned writer Amitav Ghosh writes about Mangalore’s Jewish trader Abraham Ben Yiju who lived there 900 years ago. Mangalore was already a thriving port city linking Deccan with the Arab world and Europe.

According to the research journal “Academia”, in the winter of 1978, Ghosh was studying for a degree in social anthropology at Oxford when he came across a book of translations titled Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders by Professor SD Goitein. The letters came from a storage chamber known as the Geniza, attached to an ancient synagogue in Cairo. One of them, catalogue number MS H.6, was written in 1146 AD by a merchant named Khalaf Ibn Ishaq to a trader named Abraham Ben Yijû. At that time Ben Yiyû was living in Mangalore, on the south-western coast of India. The letter mentions a certain slave and sends him “plentiful greetings”.

Mangalore is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. With the emergence of great cities like Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, and Bengaluru in the last 500 years, Mangalore has lost its prime place but continues to attract people.

It has been a multicultural city for over a thousand years, where at least half a dozen different languages are spoken, and four religions — Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, and Islam — live side by side.

Once a bastion of the Congress party where the communists gave a tough fight to Gandhi caps, it has become a saffron fortress in the last 25-30 years, earning the dubious name “the laboratory of Hindutva”.

Since 1991, Mangaluru or Dakshina Kannada (Mangaluru is the headquarters of Dakshina Kannada district) has continuously elected a BJP member to Parliament. The last Congress MP from here, B Janardhana Poojary. who once held important positions in New Delhi, is still around, though rueing.

Many argue that Mangaluru was a peaceful place known for its communal harmony till the early 1990s. It is true that after the arrival of the British in the late 18th century, it became a hub of modern trade and commerce with no time for any communal incidents. But the communal tensions are certainly not new.

The first recorded communal clash took place in Mangalore almost 800 years ago. Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller, who had visited the place in the early 14th century, writes that Mangalore was a communally sensitive place, where Hindus and Muslims often clashed with each other.

He observes that most of the clashes were related to trade and business. And Mangalore had about 4,000 Muslims living there.

Ibn Battuta praises the local Hindu king for being impartial who always punished the guilty. “King is fair. He severely punishes the culprits, irrespective of their religion,” Battuta writes. He calls the local King Rama Dev, a Sultan in his language Arabic.

“Three days after leaving Fakanur we reached Manjarur (Mangalore), a large town in the inlet called Ad-Dumb which is a larger inlet in the land of Mulaybar (Malabar). This is the town at which most of the merchants from Fars and Yemen disembark, and pepper and ginger are exceedingly abundant there. The Sultan of Manjarur is one of the principal rulers in that land and his name is Rama Daw. There is a colony of about 4,000 Muslims there, living in a suburb alongside the town. Conflicts frequently break out between them and the townspeople, but the Sultan makes peace between them on account of his need for merchants (almost all Muslims). We refused to land until the Sultan sent his son, as the previous Sultan had done. When he had done so, we went ashore and were treated with consideration,” he wrote in his travelogue.

Nestled between two majestic rivers Nethravathi and Gurupura, Mangaluru city has been home to Hindus, Jains, Christians, and Muslims. It has a large number of Roman Catholics and Beary Muslims (the traders) as well as majority Hindus — Bunts, Brahmins, Gowdas, and Billavas (who are from the backward castes). There are also a small number of Jains, who are economically wealthy and are mostly into agriculture.

The Congress has lost eight consecutive Lok Sabha elections from Mangaluru since its first loss in 1991. Its feeble attempts to recapture the seat have been easily thwarted by the BJP time and again, which is controlled by the powerful local RSS leaders.

Till the emergence of the BJP in the early 1990s, Mangaluru Congress was essentially an upper class (Bunts, Jains, Brahmins) party. A large section of the lower class had backed the communists and others.

The land reforms of the 1970s changed all that overnight. The upper class lost most of their land to their lower-class tenants. They turned against the Congress and backed the opposition. The lower-class Billava, Mogaveera, and a few other microscopic castes became the backbone of the Congress.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the rise of the BJP appropriated the numerically big Billava and Mogaveera castes, ending Congress’s monopoly in coastal politics.

The communal tensions that flare up at regular intervals have also strengthened the BJP, dividing the district on religious lines.

This time the BJP has denied a ticket to its three-term MP and former state president Nalin Kumar Kateel and has fielded a young face, Captain Brijesh Chowta. Chowta is also a Bunt like Kateel. Chowta has served in the Army as a short service commission officer and is new to electoral politics.

He is banking on the strength of the BJP, Hindutva, and Brand Modi to register his first win. The Congress has fielded Billava Padmaraj, who is a lawyer by profession. It is hoping that the major caste Billavas return to the party. But, the ground reports suggest a clear lead for the BJP.

The SDPI, which polled about 47,000 votes in 2019 has not fielded a candidate this time. The Congress which is wary of SDPI’s “communal” nature has rejected its offer of “support”, some local leaders claim.

Since the voting is largely on Hindutva versus Congress, the election campaign has been quiet across the constituency. Local issues galore, but not influencing the voters.

The BJP is confident of yet another easy win, where the candidate is immaterial. The ruling Congress is hoping for a miracle, which many of its own local leaders are not sure of.

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