Coastal Karnataka not BJP bastion, Cong will win: UT Khader
According to popular perception, coastal Karnataka is a stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The saffron party winning 17 out of 19 seats in the 2018 elections reinforced this belief. UT Khader, who is one of the two Congress leaders from this region and the only one from Dakshina Kannada district to win the election, say voting patterns in the region show that people have supported different parties every five years.
As he tries to lead the Congress’s comeback in the region, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of the banned Popular Front of India (PFI), poses a threat of splitting the Muslim vote bank. The SDPI has been attacking Khader over his refusal to take a stand in the hijab controversy, but the four-time MLA in an interview with Arun Dev say the community will rally behind the Congress to defeat BJP’s communal politics.
Out of the eight seats in Dakshina Kannada, you are the only MLA from Congress. Has Congress lost its influence in the region?
I will admit that in the last election, there was an undercurrent against the Congress party. That is the reason I was the only one to win from here (Dakshina Kannada). But this time, I am confident we will win more seats because the wave is against the BJP this time. People have realised that the BJP returning to power is a threat to peaceful living and harmony, so there is an undercurrent… why I am confident this is because even the party workers of the BJP are not happy with their leader.
But the general perception is that coastal Karnataka is a BJP stronghold.
It is far from the truth. In 2008, out of the eight seats in Dakshina Kannada, four were won by the BJP and four went to Congress. In 2013, Congress won seven seats and BJP won only 1 seat. In 2018, BJP won seven seats and we won one. So every five years there is a change. The Hindutva politics of the BJP might have increased over the years, but when it comes to voting, the trend was never a permanent trend either in the BJP’s favour or ours. People decide based on the party’s work and undercurrent. I am confident that we will emerge victorious in coastal Karnataka.
In the current political scenario, will it be right to say that Congress’ biggest concern in this election is SDPI than the BJP?
Electorally they are not a challenge for us, but we are indeed fighting them (SDPI) fiercely on the matter of misinformation. Misinformation and false campaigns carried out by the BJP in the past to divide our supporters are now being carried out by the SDPI. But people are with us, they have realised the BJP and SDPI are bad for minorities.
But it is observed that in three to four constituencies SDPI could split the Muslim vote and it could affect the Congress’ chance.
If they can split the votes, let them. But we are certain that it will be a small number. In my constituency, there are over two lakhs votes, even if SDPI gets 3000-4000 votes, it will not make a big impact. In fact, we want them to contest against us so that they know the voters are with us. If they (SDPI) don’t contest they will claim we got votes because they stood out of the election. We are certain, they won’t make a huge impact when it comes to dividing Muslim votes.
You talked about Ullal, but in other constituencies like Bantwal, this splitting of votes could make an impact.
Why would it?… In 2008 SDPI didn’t contest the election in Bantwal but our candidate lost. But in 2013, when SDPI contested against us, our candidate won. Politics is not mathematics. There are no equations and solutions. Politics is chemistry there are only reactions. So, if they withdraw from the election, some communities that vote for us may not support us. So we don’t have to worry about SDPI. And their (SDPI) political opponent is not BJP, their political existence is in targeting secular forces like Congress.
But you are being questioned for not taking a stand when the controversy over the Hijab ban was unfolding in coastal Karnataka and can you clarify your stand on the hijab issue?
I believe that in order to maintain peace and harmony, everyone should follow the rule and laws of the land. When the issue came up, it was limited to one college and other colleges allowed students to wear hijab. But some organisations brainwashed six of these students. These students created a problem after following the existing rules (not wearing a hijab) for more than one and a half years.
Many community leaders approached them offering them admission to other colleges where they could wear hijab. But insisted on staying back and said they needed to wear a hijab because there are a male teacher. Then male teachers were replaced with female teachers. But these organisations made the students protest and gather support from countries like Pakistan. Why was this hype created? For these organisations to gather support.
Now the matter is with the court. The court will decide and we hope it comes in the favour of Muslim students. Our primary concern was to make sure every girl student from the community should get a good education. But this (protests) has resulted in many more colleges that earlier allowed hijab to ban it.
But do you think the hijab issue will affect Congress electorally?
Not at all. People can see through this entire controversy. They know what was the intention behind. I will stand by the decision that we should follow the law of the land and most people agree with me. It is just a few people in the CFI (now banned Campus Front of India) who created a problem, it doesn’t represent the larger community’s sentiments.
Recently the BJP government removed the 4% reservation given to Muslims and gave the same to the Lingayats and Vokkaligas and placed Muslims under the Economically Weaker Sections category. How do you look at that?
Coming to 2(B) if they want to give reservations to the powerful communities in the state, let them give it. But what do they have to take the reservation from the Muslims? And before taking away this reservation from the community, they should have said what programmes they have done to improve the life and livelihood of Muslims that would justify this move.
The reason why they did this in the last cabinet meeting before the election was because they thought Muslims are an emotional community and there will be large-scale protests, which they can use to polarise society. But the community has shown maturity.
This decision will be struck by the court. When this is struck, the communities that got the 2% reservation will lose it. BJP implemented knowing it was not stand in court, so they were cheating these two communities (Vokkaligas and Lingayats) as well.