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‘Hindutva sidelined’ — why Right-wing outfit Sri Ram Sene plans to take on BJP in Karnataka polls

Sri Ram Sene plans to field candidates in 25 of 224 seats in this year's Karnataka assembly elections, with chief Pramod Muthalik planning to contest from Karkala in Udupi.

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Bengaluru: Claiming that the Sri Ram Sene has been wanting to contest the Karnataka assembly elections since 2014, but were held back by the “lack of support” from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sene chief Pramod Muthalik told ThePrint Monday that the BJP “doesn’t support people like me who fight for a cause (Hindutva). So, we have decided to go independent”.

The controversial leader of the Karnataka-based fringe right-wing outfit had earlier accused the BJP of “sideling Hindutva”. While the Sene has announced that it will contest 25 of 224 seats for the Karnataka assembly in this year’s elections, and has already finalised 10 candidates, Muthalik claimed that they had earlier hoped that the BJP would consider not contesting from some seats to allow the Sene to tap into the Hindu votebank there.

Muthalik himself plans to contest from Karkala in Udupi, where the Sene has an active presence and is often seen mobilising support or pursuing what it claims are measures to “save Hinduism”, while reportedly targeting Muslims to expand its reach.

Asserting that Sri Ram Sene’s main agenda is to work honestly and celebrate Hindutva, the Sene chief said the “entire system is rotten with corruption” and “Hindutva has been sidelined”.

The BJP, which won the previous 2018 assembly elections in Karnataka, does not believe, however, that Sri Ram Sene contesting the upcoming elections in the state will be a threat to its prospects, or that “smaller outfits” will have any impact on the polls.

“In this election, BJP is going to contest on its strengths, achievements of the Union and state governments, especially on issues which are close to the hearts of the majority community. We’re confident of coming back to power with a majority,” said Karnataka BJP spokesperson Ganesh Karnik.

Only a few “committed” cadres of the Sri Ram Sene are likely to vote for the outfit, while the majority will continue to back the BJP, Karnik told ThePrint, adding that voters are intelligent and aware that only the BJP can be the political representative of the majority community.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which relies heavily on Muslim support, has also decided to field candidates in the assembly polls — which is likely to benefit the BJP, by splitting minority votes that were earlier seen to shore up Congress’s numbers.

Also read: Assemblies raring for a fight, Maharashtra-Karnataka border row isn’t cooling down this winter

Joined BJP in 2014 for five hours

Sri Ram Sene first gained notoriety when its members reportedly assaulted young women in a Mangaluru pub in January 2009, claiming that “pub-going women were giving Hindus a bad name” and that such behaviour was “not part of Hindu culture”.

The outfit has since been synonymous with incidents of moral policing, communally provocative remarks, calls for razing mosques, and threats to storm Muslim places of worship, if azaan is played on loudspeakers.

The Sene defines itself as a “patriotic, social, religious and cultural organisation” of Hindus, and had previously maintained that it didn’t have any “political involvement, agenda or activities”. It has since changed its stance, after announcing its intention of contesting the assembly polls, and has accused the BJP of ignoring its “benefactors” — members of the majority community.

Interestingly, Muthalik, a divisive figure in Karnataka, had formally joined the BJP in March 2014, in the presence of then state unit chief (now Union minister) Pralhad Joshi and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar. But Muthalik’s association with the BJP lasted only about five hours, with the party quickly cutting all ties with him, following outrage over his inclusion from both within and outside the party.

Muthalik has since intensified attacks against the BJP, especially, the party’s state leaders.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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