Karnataka has to wait for a full month to know who has it voted for. Polling in this Southern Indian state, earlier called Mysore, was held on April 17. The electronic voting machines (EVMs), that have replaced ballot papers in India, were then stored in strong rooms only to be taken out on May 16 when the results for whole of India will be tabulated and announced in the evening.
As India’s gigantic 810 million electorate is casting votes on 9 different dates between April 7 and May 12, its constituencies ‘suffer’ from various lengths of wait. The wait is unique to Indian election system. The period misses the heat of the pre-poll campaigning but all the electoral issues remain alive and continue to be debated at the tea stalls and coffee shops.
Discussions in Karnataka’s capital, Bangalore, India’s third most populous city, are dominated by the civic issues. Congress here had returned successful in the state assembly after BJP’s tumultuous term ended in May 2013. In the common public discourse religious strife does not figure as strongly as in many other parts.
Bangalore is a little bigger in population (8.5 million) than Lahore and the city and the state of Karnataka has a sizeable Muslim minority, exceeding 12 per cent of the total. Muslims in southern India, in general, are economically better off. They are mostly engaged in trade and businesses, especially in the real estate and construction, and the communal divide here has rarely turned violent.
At the Shivajinagar bazar, where Muslims run most of the businesses, there is a Hindu temple right next to a mosque and a big church in close vicinity. I asked the shopkeeper selling garments in front of this ‘Hindu-Muslim religious complex’ whether there have been riots here. He was blunt in his reply, “This is no UP, Bihar where they cut each other’s throats. We live here peacefully.”
Comparisons with northern India figure during every talk with Muslim communities here. “It’s because of the different religious leadership here,” explained another Muslim businessman at the auto repair market at Siddiah road, “We labour to make better our present while the leaders over there put all the emphasis on life after death, even if it comes at the cost of destroying your current prospects.”
Muslims of Karnataka revere Tipu Sultan as a saint-king and since he had fought bravely against the British, he also finds favour in the secular national narrative. The Sultan thus has become a cross-religion icon here that serves as a bridge between the two communities. Sultan’s 215th martyrdom anniversary, May 4, was celebrated by Muslims here who took out a rally starting from Tipu Palace in Bangalore and ending at his grave in nearby town of Srirangapattan. The rally was organised by local Muslim leaders and was also participated by Hindus.
A shared history and pragmatism of the business class might well be the major factors behind the relative communal peace in Bangalore but there is certainly more to it. “The government was quick in suspending the area police official and in announcing compensation for the victim,” said Muhammad Sadiq referring to a recent incident in which a Hindu fanatic had shot dead a Muslim man who was taking a cow for slaughter.
I met Sadiq at the residence of the Minister for Transport in the Karnataka government, Ramalinga Reddy (Congress). The minister was meeting general public and receiving applications of various types from them at his own residence without any security or bureaucracy surrounding him. There was not even a single uniformed guard at the gate and that was a big indicator of the security situation in the state.
Congress enjoys unflinching support of Muslims in Karnataka and is confident of winning majority of the 28 Lok Sabha seats of Karnataka in the ongoing elections.
The Hindu majority middle class here, however, is divided between the two old power contenders. The size of this class has burgeoned during the past two decades as Bangalore led India’s IT revolution from the front. The metropolis’ population has increased by 65 per cent during the decade 2001-2011.
BJP that is projected as ‘the hottest’ favourites in the current general elections is virtually non-existent in the two states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu that are further south of Karnataka. It however has been able to make some inroads in here.
“Corporations may have social and political ideals very different from Modi’s but when it comes to business they want to see files moving, and moving at a fast pace. The outgoing government of Congress had been pathetically inept. They (corporations) won’t like to see the paralysis continue at any cost,” says Digu Aruchamy, a consultant at Infosys, India’s flagship IT corporation that is headquartered in Bangalore. The city is also home to the other big name in Indian IT sector, Wipro and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Hindustan Aeronautical Limited and a lot of other high-tech companies. It is the fourth biggest contributor to India’s overall GDP and figures among the top 10 preferred entrepreneurial locations of the world.
But the BJP’s support base does not extend below the middle classes. “Hindu majority is sharply divided along the caste lines, basically into three broader categories,” explained Dakshinan Murty, a senior journalist and a writer, “while BJP may woo the intermediate classes, it just can’t allow the so-called low caste Dalits into its ranks as that will be contrary to its religious ideology, besides leading to rifts within the upper crust of its support base.” And unluckily for BJP, the Dalits form a substantial vote bank here, like in many other parts of India.
While Muslims as a community may be unanimous in their support for Congress, Dalits stand divided. Most of them consider Congress as a Brahmins’ party too and idolise B. R. Ambedkar as their national saviour instead of Gandhi or any scion of the Nehru family.
Their position provides sustenance to Janta Dal which champions the cause of lower castes. In the recent past, the BJP had won the support of a faction of Janta Dal and formed government in the state. The ‘unholy’ alliance did not last long and the opposing group formed Janta Dal (Secular) with Deve Gowda, the former PM, as it’s head.
“Social divisions within the Dalits community are a big hindrance,” says Sudipto Mondal, a journalist who belongs to the Dalit community and is a vocal advocate of social justice, “There are left-hand Dalits who do dirty jobs and then there are right-hand Dalits who perform cleaner jobs.
The latter find the former untouchable and then there are bad omen Dalits, like Koragas, with whom they both do not socialise. The social divisions and sub-divisions go on endlessly and all this negatively reflects upon their political causes.”
The Congress had been able to assemble enough pieces of this jigsaw puzzle of caste, class and religious divides to help it form the provincial government in last year local election and most here believe that it will also pass the even more complex test of Lok Sabha elections in this state.