The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka is pursuing all efforts to unify the majority Hindu population in Dakshina Kannada district-about 350 kms from Bengaluru- to consolidate its supporter base ahead of next years assembly elections. But the consolidation effort, analysts say, is actually forcing the minorities (Muslims and Christians) to unite to fight off the Hindutva agenda.
The Christian community, which makes up about 13.5 per cent of the total population in Mangaluru, is treading cautiously and is seen veering against BJP's game plan for the region-one of the most communally sensitive regions of the state.
In two constituencies of Mangaluru, the BJP is up against the bitter memories of 2008 Church attacks, 2009 pub attack, moral policing and most importantly a sense of insecurity among members of the community. Christian leaders in Mangaluru say that BJP's polarisation efforts are only making matters worse.
"Amidst the polarisation in Mangaluru, minor communities among minorities are being sidelined. Attacks on Churches have left a massive impact and every secular person, not just Christians, feels the pinch till date. We have become more reserved and narrow-minded and it is unfortunate in a democracy," said Prof Vincent Alva, Principal, Milagres College, Kallianpur.
Christians make up about 13.15 per cent in Mangaluru city, Hindus 68.99 per cent of the population and Muslims 17.40 per cent, census data shows.
Congress and BJP have historically only fielded candidates from either the Mangalorean Catholic Community or Gaud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB)-an influential caste group in the region, to represent the party. The only exception was in 1983 when BJP chose Dhananjaya Kumar, a Jain.
Political analysts and locals say that the GSB have had their disagreements, on multiple issues, with the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) leading to cracks in BJP's attempts to consolidate the Hindu vote.
"Christians have been at the receiving end of the ultra nationalist view of the right wing. The previous elections saw Christians voting for the Congress only because of the anti-BJP sentiment," said Prof Sandeep Shastri, Psephologist and Pro Vice Chancellor of Jain University in Bengaluru.
Adding to BJP's troubles is the large presence of Sangh Parivar outfits and its regular clashes with minority groups-mainly the Muslims.
According to the BJP, at least 23 workers of right wing organisations have been killed since 2015 by radical outfits like Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Popular Front of India (PFI) among others. Minority groups, on the other hand, have blamed the BJP for attacks on its members.
Numbers from the previous election back Prof Shastri's claims. In Mangaluru South constituency, the Congress' vote share jumped by 8.10 per cent leading to the party gaining 51.26 per cent share of total votes. The BJP, that was already facing challenges with the emergence of Karnataka Janata Party (KJP-a party floated by former chief minister B.S.Yeddyurappa after he left the BJP. He has since returned to the BJP), lost 8.53 per cent vote share. Out of the total 1,32,315 votes, BJP polled 55,554 while the Congress won with 67,829.
Mangaluru Christians say that maintaining peace, security and development are the key issues to win over the community.
"We are not insecure but are annoyed about the polarisation and tensions in Mangalore. Many Christians and Muslims have, in the past, voted for candidates of the BJP but development took a backseat," said an officer of the Diocese of Mangaluru-an institution set up in the 17th century. He requested not to be named.
But the problem for the BJP may be a tad bigger as the Christians come under the minority tag along with the Muslims. Though both communities have made individual choices, community members say that the Christians have (since 2008) not been favour of voting for the BJP and this is in unlikely to change in 2018.