Mangalore: In the heart of Mangalore, an unusual sight: a team of activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP, campaigning for the BJP.
- Coastal Karnataka sees cycle of violence between Hindu, Muslim groups
- Hindu group leader says young men can't keep quiet if own are killed
- Muslim group leader says can't blame outfit for what members do
They distributed handbills, and went from shop to shop, asking for votes for Vedavyas Kamath, the BJP candidate from the Mangalore South seat in the Karnataka election later this month.
Later they chanted slogans of Hindu unity.
Hardline Sangh Parivar outfits rarely campaign openly for the BJP. This time, however, promises to be different.
"As per my knowledge, there was not that much intensity even in the Lok Sabha elections", Jagadish Shenava, the Mangalore district president of the VHP told NDTV.
"Full Sangh Parivar is involved in this, in a manner I have never seen," he said.
The reason, he said is because "24 of our boys have been killed by Jihadis. Every activity of (Chief Minister) Siddaramaiah is anti-Hindu," a reference to a list of 23 BJP-RSS workers allegedly murdered by Muslim extremists during Congress rule.
That list has been debunked repeatedly: the state government found that of the 23 deaths, 14 had no links to Muslims. Those findings were borne out by an investigation by Scroll.in.
NDTV found that the first name on the BJP's 'martyr' list, Ashok Poojary, is alive.
Moreover, the pattern of violence in coastal Karnataka is not solely of Hindutva group workers as victims, but of a cycle of revenge killings between Hindutva groups, and extremist Muslim outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI).
According to one estimate, nine workers of Hindutva outfits were killed in the past five years, a majority in coastal Karnataka. In a bulk of the cases, the accused are from the PFI. In the same period, Hindutva groups like the Bajrang Dal are accused in at least six killings of Muslims, including PFI members.
In January this year Deepak Rao, a BJP activist who ran a mobile shop, was brutally murdered in Mangalore's Suratkal area. The police have arrested 11 men, of whom two have links to the PFI, they say.
Within seven hours of Deepak Rao's killing, Abdul Basheer who ran a fast food restaurant at a busy Mangalore intersection was attacked and killed, police claim as revenge for Rao's murder. The men arrested include members of the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagran Vedike, a fringe Hindutva outfit.
The response by the BJP however, has been selective. A slew of BJP leaders, including BJP President Amit Shah made their way to Rao's residence, but did not come to visit Basheer's family, his son, Imran told NDTV.
"The CM (Siddaramaiah) came first went to Deepak Rao's house, and then came to see us. But Amit Shah only went to Deepak Rao's house. We are only 4 km away. Why did he not come here?" said Imran.
The VHP's Jagadish Shenava justified the retaliatory killing. "How can youngsters keep quiet when a 23-year-old boy (Deepak Rao) was killed for no reason?" he said.
In the 2013 assembly elections, the Congress swept Mangalore, winning seven of eight seats in the district. This time, says Shenava, "Hindu anger" will reverse that trend.
On the other side of the coin, the culture of political violence has not dented the PFI's political prospects.
They performed poorly in 2013 assembly elections, but did well in recent local body elections in the Mangalore and Udupi region.
"We educate, we organise, we agitate for our constitutional rights. But there are incidents where some relatives of our members were targeted and our members organised themselves and they did something. The organisation can't be blamed for this," Mohammed Saqib, the President of PFI told NDTV from Bangalore.
The BJP has alleged that the Congress and the PFI have struck a secret pact - the PFI has chosen not to contest the Karnataka elections, barring three seats, in exchange for the Congress government going soft on cases against the PFI.
Ramanath Rai, Congress leader from Mangalore and Forest Minister, told NDTV that the charge is baseless. "PFI is fighting against us in Mysore and some other places."
The PFI's Saqib denied a secret pact but said their decision to withdraw was to ensure that the BJP is defeated. "We do not want to split the anti-BJP vote," he said.