Summer in Mangaluru—a breezeless day, the air heavy with sweat. Just for a moment, Jayprashanth Kumar, or J.P. as his friends call him, wants to get away from the crowd.

That’s when he spots a rain tree. Standing right next to a police van on Maidan road, the tree offers a momentary respite. Pavit and Yatish, J.P.’s closest friends, haul themselves up first, followed by J.P.

Perched on top, J.P. can see a sea of saffron approaching Nehru Maidan. It is a Saturday, five days before the Lok Sabha polls in southern Karnataka. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is addressing a rally in Mangaluru. 

With vehicles barred, roads around the ground are taken over by crowds. Coconut trees, rain trees, and flowering copper pod trees flank the masses. Government offices are to the east of the Maidan, the tomb of the Sufi saint Hazrath Saidani Bibi to its south, and historic St Paul’s Church to its west.

J.P. wipes his face with the saffron towel he’s tied around his head. He would not have missed this rally for anything. He got off his shift at the local milk packaging plant earlier than usual. Like his friends, he is a member of Bajrang Dal, and the Modi rally is one of the most anticipated events for this Lok Sabha election.

Around him, processions form and dissolve. Some, like the advocates, march carrying banners. Slogans ring the air.

“Mathomme... Modi”   (Once Again...Modi)

Almost all have some saffron paraphernalia on them, petas (turbans), hats, shawls, or towels, all in party colour.  A few even have Modi masks on.

Main Bhi… Chowkidar

Main Bhi… Chowkidar

Main Bhi… Chowkidar

Like Pavit, J.P. is wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, except Pavit’s shirt is a crisp white one. Yatish is wearing a dotted purple shirt. The men, as is the fashion these days, sport something on their wrists, either steel bracelets or a lotus fashioned out of saffron thread. J.P. has a rubber wristband found at roadside stalls.

Bolo Bharat Mata Ki... Jai

Bolo Narendra Modi Ki... Jai

Bolo Bharatiya Janata Party Ki... Jai

Down  at a  stall a man is scooping ice cream from a metal cylinder fastened to the back of the bicycle. He digs out a cone from the front of the basket—in fluorescent yellow, orange, green, and pink—and places the ice-cream on it. A little ahead, another vendor on a bicycle is serving kulfi to customers.

Right below J.P, an old woman has a stall selling fried snacks and slices of green mango with a sprinkling of chilli. J.P is hungry, so he climbs down from the tree, and buys a packet of peanuts and some of the green mango.

J.P. and friends atop a tree during a Modi rally in Mangaluru. Photo: Shamsheer Yousaf

As he licks the chilli off the mango, he gets a call. It’s from one of the volunteers inside the ground.

“Where are you, J.P?”

“We are standing right outside the ground.”

“Come to Gate 2. We need some help here. Bring everyone else here”.

Gate No 2 is just a few feet away, but a vast crowd is lined up outside. The police are allowing entry one by one. They inform the cop they are volunteers, and he opens the gate momentarily to let them through.

Inside the stadium, the crowd is divided into multiple sections, each separated by barricades. Sections at the front, closer to the stage, provide seating for the audience. Further back, the seats are fewer and people are mostly standing. Each section has a giant screen, with speakers spread around evenly.

Saffron flags flutter around the stadium carrying the BJP’s lotus symbol outlined in black or white. One banner has Modi standing in a pose like Swami Vivekananda.

Two ambulances are parked at two ends of the stadium. The police have established a lookout post on the office building directly opposite  the podium. A  police officer looks through her binoculars to keep an eye on the proceedings. Behind her, the clock at the entrance of the 175-year-old St Paul’s church keeps ticking.

It is 4:42 p.m. A  roar goes up in the crowd. For a whole minute, the stadium is drowned by chants of Modi. The Prime Minister has arrived. On stage with him are BJP candidates for Dakshina Kannada constituency, Nalin Kumar Kateel and Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency, Shobha Karandlaje.

The announcer welcomes Modi: “Greeting to the Prime Minister of Hindustan from Tulu Nadu”. The crowd cheers.

Modi takes  the mic.

Modi: Bharat Mata Ki ….

Audience: Jai…

Modi: Bharat Mata Ki ….

Audience: Jai...

Modi: Bharat Mata Ki ….

Audience: Jai…

After meeting his friend, J.P. and his gang are assigned tasks. For a moment, they turn around to shout “Jai” with the audience. But they go back to their duties.

No need to take such a risk, I will be elected again. We will meet again.

Modi notices the trees flanking the stadium to his left—the same trees J.P. and his friends had occupied a short while back.

“Those who are on top, are you guys secure?”

“‘Look, take care of yourself.”

“If something happened to you people, I will be despondent.”

The people on the trees and around the stadium cheer.

“It is my request, and if you people don’t have a problem, come down”. Modi watches them climb down and smiles. “Come down please”. “No need to take such a risk, I will be elected again. We will meet again.”

Modi begins his speech with a smattering of Kannada. “Nimma chowkidar Narendra Modiya Namaskaaragalu. (Greetings from your chowkidar Narendra Modi)”.

He then shifts to Hindi: “Main Poochta hoon ki kya Kannad mein interpretation ki zaroorat hai kya?” (I ask you if there is a need to interpret in Kannada). A few members at the front wave no.

J.P has been assigned to serve beverages to the audience. Large sacks containing packets of buttermilk are stacked along the boundary walls of the ground. Audience members close to the walls help themselves. But the majority of people depend on volunteers like J.P. After tearing the package with their teeth, people gulp the spiced buttermilk and throw the packets on the ground.

Modi’s speech covers ground party workers like J.P. have already covered in door-to-door campaigns for this election. How people across the world are talking about India’s development; a tirade against the Congress-Janata Dal(S) coalition; an unusual digression into how the Congress did not honour the memory of former President Dr S Radhakrishnan, and on the surgical strikes.

Crowds close to the podium—many who appear to understand Modi’s Hindi—roar approvingly at appropriate moments. But further behind, the groups are a little more restless—engaging with Modi’s speech only when he utters familiar campaign keywords: “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”, “Chaiwalla”, “Surgical strikes” “Main Bhi Chowkidar.”

J.P. and his friends are busy distributing buttermilk. They have hardly any time to listen to the  speech.

Finally, Modi comes to the end of his speech and switches to  Kannada. Adopting the call-and-response pattern, Modi lists out people—Children, elders, mothers, sisters, doctors, engineers, professors, journalists, farmers, lawyers, students, etc. The crowd responds to each call with “Chowkidar”. He ends with calls for Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

Immediately, the crowd begins to disperse. A few out-of-towners assemble at the circle behind the maidan for selfies with the art installation. Others throng to water stations along Maidan road to quench their thirst. Many enthusiastic supporters wave BJP flags vigorously in the air. Others take the time out to treat themselves to ice-creams and kulfis.

Only J.P. and his fellow volunteers are left in the stadium. They wade through the plastic pouches discarded by the audience and pick up garbage bags. The light is fading. The leaves of the rain tree start to fold.

J.P. scoops out the pouches from the ground into a garbage bag. A Nehru statue at the corner of the Maidan overlooks benignly.

The BJP’s success in coastal Karnataka and Dakshina Kannada in particular—where it has held the Lok Sabha seat since 1991—largely rests on volunteers like J.P. and his cohorts in outfits like Bajrang Dal. What motivates volunteers like J.P. and his friends to work for the victory of Modi and BJP?

Mangaluru has a number of malls that have become sites of moral policing by groups like the Hindu Jagaran Vedike and Bajrang Dal. Photo: Shamsheer Yousaf. 

At first, J.P, Pavit, and Yatish parrot the campaign poins. “The country has seen a lot of improvement. World opinion about India and Modi is very high,” says J.P.

“Our economy is currently in fourth place. Modi will bring it to first place,” says Pavit. [Based on nominal GDP, India is ranked sixth and seventh place respectively by the IMF and World Bank].

J.P. says Modi is a great leader because he gave away all his money before he became the prime minister. “See how he tackled black money. Look at how the problems in Kashmir have come down,” he says. “Hundred per cent”.

But as the conversation goes on, J.P. and his friends get more agitated. What animates them finally becomes clear. Organisations like the RSS, Bajrang Dal, and Hindu Jagarana Vedike have been able to cast several recent incidents as injustices to the Hindu community.

“Look what happened at the Kalladka school,” he says.

In 2017, the Karnataka government ordered temples to stop providing financial aid to schools as the law governing Hindu religious institutions did not allow it.

“The Siddaramaiah government stopped the temple from providing money to two schools for mid-day meals”, says J.P. At the time, the district-in-charge minister Ramanath Rai clarified that the schools would be provided mid-day meals if they applied to the education department.

But the school was run by RSS strongman Prabhakar Bhat from Kalladka. Bhat, known for making inflammatory speeches, cast the issue as interference by the government in a religious matter. The topic resonated with BJP supporters, and many believe this led to the defeat of Rai in the 2018 assembly election, despite representing the constituency six times.

The majority of the grievances J.P. and his friends have relate to their conflicts with Muslims.

One is the alleged targeted murders of Hindus in coastal Karnataka. “Just last year alone, 23 Hindus were murdered by Muslims in coastal Karnataka”, says Pavit. The 23 Hindus is a reference to a list of 23 people submitted by Udupi-Chikmagalur MP Shobha Karandlaje. But it has been disputed by several media reports that showed that Hindus killed many on the list, some were suicides, and in one case, the man was still alive.

Some murders J.P. mentions were communal. Like Deepak Rao, a Bajrang Dal activist from Surathkal who was murdered in early 2018 by a Muslim gang over the installation of buntings. Cow-protection is high on the agenda of J.P and his friends. The state government, according to them, turns a blind eye to illegal cowslaughter in the region.

“Muslim organisations like the SDPI and PFI are mainly involved in cow slaughter. In one case, they took 23 cows from just one house,” says Pavit. J.P. claims he has witnessed an incident in which a cow’s legs were cut off early in the morning.

The Bajrang Dal also alleges that district minister U.T. Khader is passing off funds to illegal cow slaughterhouses for development. A project to upgrade a slaughterhouse in Mangaluru under the Smart City Project for ₹15 crore has come for vigorous criticism from Hindutva organisation. “That money is going directly to fund slaughter of cows,” Pavit says. “We won’t allow it”.

The issue that animates the Bajrang Dal most in these regions is “Love Jihad”. “A BJP government is necessary to save people from Love Jihad,” says J.P. Between 2016 and 2018, he says they have come across several cases of Love Jihad in the city. Muslims, he adds, lure Hindu women in relationships, and then rape them.

J.P.(second from right) and his fellow members from the Bajrang Dal attend the Modi rally on April 13 in Mangaluru. Also seen are Pavit (first from left) and Yatish (fourth from left). Photo: Shamsheer Yousaf

Two months ago, he says, a Muslim manager of a restaurant in Attavara, in Mangaluru, trapped a Hindu girl. “He established a friendship with her. One day, he took her in his car for a drive,” says J.P.

“Then something happened,” says Pavit. “Something.” The duo claimed that the girl’s family approached them and told them about the incident. “We confronted the manager and took him to the police station,” says J.P. But according to him, police refused to file a case against the manager. “Instead, they arrested people from Bajrang Dal who had gone to complain.

“In several cases, these women have been sent to Jihad camps in Kerala,” alleges Pavit. “If we hadn’t intervened, this girl would have also been sent there”. J.P. and Pavit have spent time around colleges, malls, and restaurants, targeting Hindu-Muslim couples. “We have people who inform us if they spot a couple,” says J.P. According to him, certain malls owned by Muslims are hotspots for Love Jihad.

Many of these stories circulate on WhatsApp. J.P. whips out his phone and shows posts on a WhatsApp group run by his local Bajrang Dal Ghataka (unit). There are videos of Mod’s speeches, memes on Mandya Lok Sabha constituency and chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumarswamy, or on local Congress candidate Mithun Rai. There are also speeches by leaders from the right in Karnataka: RSS leaders Prabhakar Bhat and B.L. Santhosh, and Team Modi leader Chakravarthy Sulibele.

From this group, J.P. has also picked up some wild allegations. He says most of the employees at food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato are Muslims. “They find girls from these apps, or recharge shops. Then they start giving missed calls at night and lure them,” he adds. When told these apps now route calls through a call centre, he says this hasn’t been done in Mangaluru.Bajrang Dal activists have also raided several bars and restaurants for “immoral” behaviour.

He lists a series of pubs and a sheesha lounge in the city. “The girls are not even 21. On Valentine’s Day, we went to sheesha lounge and caught a Hindu girl smoking ganja,” says J.P. “Their parents think they go to college. Instead, they are smoking, drinking, and doing ganja.” They also allege that Congress candidate Mithun Rai is promoting this culture. As per Rai’s election affidavit, he is an investor in a hospitality services company, but there are no criminal cases against him. 

Referring to a 2015 decision by the Siddaramaiah government to drop 175 cases against Muslim organisations like the Popular Front of India and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity, J.P. says this shows how much love the Congress has for Muslims.

He alleges that the government has not pursued cases against Muslims who attacked a bus filled with Datta Peetha worshippers in 2017. The Datta Peetha is a controversial shrine atop the Baba Budangiri hill in Chikmagalur district where both Muslims and Hindus worship. Muslims consider it the resting place of a Sufi saint, while Hindus treat it as an abode of the Dattatreya.

The police have filed cases against all three of them. Pavit says he has four lawsuits filed against him. J.P. says that he has three cases against him. He even had to borrow money to post bail in one case.

Over the last two decades, groups like the Bajrang Dal have organised a Datta Jayanti celebration in December every year. In 2017, an incident during these celebrations, in which tombs belonging to the family members of the Muslim caretaker were pulled down, triggered communal tension.

The police have filed cases against all three of them. Pavit says he has four lawsuits filed against him. J.P. says that he has three cases against him. He even had to borrow money to post bail in one case.

Dakshina Kannada and Mangaluru, in particular, has a history with Hindutva going back to the 1930s when several Konkani-speaking Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB) established links with the RSS. Formed in 1925 in Nagpur, RSS reached here within a decade. The first shakha in the region opened in 1940, and soon, Mangaluru was designated as branch headquarters covering five districts.

The organisation’s growth was limited by the fact that it did not appeal to Tulu speaking masses. The Tulu social order comprised Billavas and Moghaveeras, toddy tappers and fisherfolk, respectively. Above them were the Bunts, the landed gentry who after the land reforms in the 1970s, also came to dominate business in the region.

The Tulu communities practised Bhuta worship which venerated ancient spirits that were non-Vedic or non-Brahmanical. The RSS could not grow until it could expand to these communities.  

Dakshina Kannada and Mangaluru, in particular, has a history with Hindutva going back to the 1930s when several Konkani-speaking Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB) established links with the RSS. Formed in 1925 in Nagpur, RSS reached here within a decade.

The other dominant community in Dakshins Kannada is the Bearys, a Muslim community with over 1,300 years of history in the region. They constitute nearly a quarter of the population, and speak Beary, a language similar to Malayalam with a heavy infusion of Tulu. Dakshina Kannada also has a large Christian community, around eight per cent of the population, comprising Konkani-speaking Catholics and Tulu-speaking Protestants.

By the 1960s, the RSS had managed to expand its base among other communities. RSS Sarsangchalak M.S. Golwalkar recruited Vishvesha Teertha, the seer of the Pejawar Matha to expand the organisation’s base among different castes.

Its political wing the Bharatiya Jan Sangh saw its first electoral victory anywhere in the country when it won the Udupi Municipal Corporation elections in 1968. V. S. Acharya was elected as commissioner and later went on to become the Higher Education Minister when the BJP came to power in Karnataka in 2008.

As Greeshma Kuthar writes in Firstpost, the Mogaveeras were the first Tulu community to take to the Sangh. The RSS was able to take advantage of a series of conflicts between Mogaveeras, who did the actual fishing, and Bearys, who were the traders in the fishing business. A riot broke out in the late 1960s on the back of reports that a Beary meat trader and a Moghaveera fisherwoman had fallen in love. The Sangh Parivar made significant inroads into the Moghaveera community exploiting their fears of Muslim men “entrapping” their women—an early manifestation of Love-Jihad propaganda.

The Sangh adopted other strategies to saffronise Dakshina Kannada. Bhajan mandalis that popularised devotional music, replacing Bhuta worship with Vedic rituals and promoting cow protection in the region.

By the 1980s the region was ripe for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The campaign attracted large numbers of youth among the lower castes, Billavas and Mogaveeras. Many from the region took part in the door-to-door collection of bricks for the construction of a temple in Ayodhya.

The 1990s also saw the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the VHP, take off. Today, it estimates that it has nearly 25,000 members in Karnataka spread across 4,500 akhadas, with the greatest concentration in and around Dakshina Kannada.

The BJP reaped electoral dividends in the region. In 1991, the BJP’s V Dhananjaya Kumar won the Dakshina Kannada Lok Sabha seat for the first time. The seat has been with the BJP ever since. In the 2018 assembly elections, it won seven out of eight seats in the region.

Over the years, it has consolidated its position on the coast, winning the adjacent Udupi-Chikmagalur and Uttara Kannada seats as well.

By the early 2000s, there was a significant rise in clashes between Hindus and Muslims. A sustained campaign of “love jihad” and cow slaughter by Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagarana Vedike intensified communal passions. Moral policing was also on the rise with attacks on pubs and resorts. When the BJP came to power in 2008, a series of attacks were directed at more than 15 churches in the coastal district by Bajrang Dal. Several of its activists were arrested, including state convener Mahendra Kumar. A judicial inquiry commission gave a clean chit to the Dal, while indicting Kumar. He has since left the organisation and renounced Hindutva. The Muslims in the region have also begun to organise. The Karnataka Forum for Dignity, which has morphed into the Popular Front of India (PFI), has seen significant uptake among the Muslim community.

These groups have also begun to engage in moral policing, and have been involved in communal clashes in the region. The police have found links to murders of activists of Hindutva organisations by PFI members. In August 2015, 33-year old autorickshaw driver Praveen Poojary was found murdered—police suspected PFI activists. In nearby Shivamogga town, a clash between the PFI and Hindutva groups was followed by the murder of a Hindutva activist. The group has also been involved in several incidents of moral policing—a 2015 report attributed six incidents of moral policing to the PFI.

J.P., Pavit, and Yatish all joined the local RSS shakha when there were 11. J.P. remembers that his adolescent years revolved around the shakha. Both his parents encouraged him to go to the local shakha. His mother was a beedi roller and father a tailor, so they were glad to see J.P. spend his time under a bit of supervision.

“The main issues were the Ayodhya temple and Ram Janmabhoomi movement,” he says. When they turned 16, the boys were transferred to Bajrang Dal. For J.P., Pavith, and Yatish, Bajrang Dal made them feel wanted, even as their lives outside were not going well.

Take J.P. for instance. Around the time he joined Bajrang Dal, he had just cleared the Pre-University College (PUC) exam. But his father did not have money to send him to college. Instead, he enrolled in a diploma course for
refrigeration and air-conditioning. After one year, his mother was hospitalised on account of malaria, and he had to drop out. With his family in dire need of money, he took a job at local milk packaging plant. “I thought I would be there only for a few months, until I could figure how to get back to my course. Then I thought I would start my own business repairing electronics,” he says. “Now it’s been seven years doing the same job.”

The BJP owes its electoral success in coastal Karnataka to these foot soldiers over the years. According to many organisations such as the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike, an anti-communal organisation, Dakshina Kannada has become a Hindutva laboratory. The district has a plethora of organisations—Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishath, Hindu Jagarana Vedike, and Bajrang Dal—that have managed to enmesh themselves into the fabric of Hindu life.

To tap into this network for the elections, the Sangh Parivar has instituted a hierarchical structure that harnesses the work of activists  like J.P. efficiently. To help target these efforts, the Sangh appoints people from the middle class to direct operations at the ground level. This machinery has been in action across the district since the beginning of February.

At Ujjodi, a locality adjacent to National Highway 66 which connects both ends of the west coast of India, this machinery is in action.

By day, Shetty is a criminal advocate, mostly fighting cases of bounced cheques or delayed payments. But for the last three months Shetty has been donning the role of Sanghchalak of the booth committee.

Ujjodi’s social life revolves around the Mugulya complex, and in particular Hotel Dwarka, with its neat single row of tables. A grill lies empty outside with a poster above it: “Buy 3 shawarmas @Rs 100”.

A saffron flag flutters by the highway. A small hill rises behind—a significant Christian community resides in this Hindu-majority locality.

Inside Dinesh N. Shetty is presiding over a quick meeting of the booth committee. Of those assembled, he is the most impressively dressed. A crisp white full-sleeved shirt neatly tucked into black pleated trousers, and black polished shoes.

By day, Shetty is a criminal advocate, mostly fighting cases of bounced cheques or delayed payments. But for the last three months Shetty has been donning the role of Sanghchalak of the booth committee.

At the meeting, Shetty takes out two books and two sets of papers containing electoral rolls. He prepares the daily report detailing how many people the team has contacted in the previous evening’s campaigning. He also enters how many voters have committed to the BJP from the booth.

“According to the latest updated rolls, there are 1,470 voters in our booth. Of this, 980 have confirmed that they are going to vote for us,” he says.

Shetty comes from a farming family. “My father, mother, uncle, we always voted for BJP,” he says.

He did not go to an RSS shakha in his childhood. “But I used to hear speeches from the local leaders. It instilled a commitment to Hindutva in me. A love for the nation,” he says. He first became active in Hindutva politics at the first-grade college at Uppinangady in 2003, where he joined the Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishath (ABVP) and became secretary of the student council in his final year.

Shetty went to Vivekananda Law College at Puttur for his degree. The college is part of the Vivekananda Vidyavardhaka Sangha, an organisation headed by Prabhakar Bhat of Kalladka, the RSS strongman. When Shetty moved to Mangaluru, he first worked in the office of a relative of Dhananjay Kumar, BJP MP from Dakshina Kannada.

Shetty usually stayed away from campaigning. But in 2014, Narendra Modi’s candidacy enthused him, and he enrolled for election work as a “page pramukh”. A page pramukh is a volunteer who is responsible for getting voters on a single page on the electoral roll to the polling booth.

This time Shetty is Sanghchalak of the booth committee. The Sanghchalak does not formally belong to BJP.  The Sangh offers the position of Sanghchalak to someone from RSS or VHP or one of the other Sangh Parivar organisations. Shetty also has a deputy, Sah-sanchalak, a medical student who is also from the VHP.

Instead, the party is represented on the committee by the BJP booth president K. Manoj and secretary Suresh Adyar. Manoj, 34 is a distributor for a Mangaluru-based ice-cream company, while Adyar, 46, is a tailor who returned a few years back after a stint in Saudi Arabia.

The preparations began  in February. The booth committee, comprising  32 people met in early February and discussed how they should work. Instructions for the booth committee come from two sources. “The party High command sends us instructions via the district office,” says Shetty. “And the Sangh also sends us instructions”, he adds.

 “At the first meeting, we developed a strategy on how to execute these instructions”.

Shetty explains that the Sangh was proactive about campaigning this time, even before any instructions from BJP. “They decided we needed to complete two rounds of door-to-door campaigning before the party started their campaign. “We completed our first round by March 10, and the second round by March 25,” says Shetty. The meeting also decided the page pramukhs for this election. Each pramukh was assigned two pages of the booth voter roll. “But for campaigning, all of us go together door-to-door,” says Shetty.

Dinesh N Shetty, Sangchalak,  BJP’s Ujjodi polling booth committee in Mangaluru, prepares a report on how many voters have pledged to the BJP. Photo: Shamsheer Yousaf

The page pramukhs would be crucial on the day of voting — they have to ensure BJP voters on their list turn up at the booth that day. In Ujjodi, page pramukhs include sales personnel, two IT employees, several local businessmen, a PWD contractor, and three daily wage workers. Volunteers are drawn mainly from Bajrang Dal, with a few from VHP, Hindu Jagarana Vedike, and RSS.

The page pramukhs report to Shetty. The Sangchalak for each booth, in turn, reports to a Shakti Kendra, that manages two  to three booth committees under it. Shetty prepares reports regularly and sends them to the Shakti Kendra, which in turn reports to the Maha Shakti Kendra which looks after all the election activity at the assembly constituency level. In Mangaluru South, to which Ujjodi belongs to, there are five Shakti Kendras—North, South, East, West, and Central. The Maha Shakti Kendras are typically led by the local MLA, or in the absence of one, a party appointee.

The RSS directly instructs other groups, says Shetty. “For instance, the Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, an advocates body affiliated to the Sangh, go campaigning as a group in flats and parks,” he says. Other groups such as Namo Brigade, Team Modi, and labour unions also campaign in a targeted manner.

Back at the booth, most members have day jobs, so campaigning typically takes place in the evening. “Some people joke asking us why we visit them so many times,” says Shetty. He also claims that a few traditional Congress supporters are now shifting to the BJP.

During the door-to-door campaign, they talk about the work the NDA government has done. “This election is all about Modi,” says Shetty.

“Otherwise no one gets to know about it. Because everyone in the media might not support,” says Shetty. “Some show only one side—for instance, Arnab Goswami earlier supported UPA fully. Now he is supporting NDA fully.We can’t say how they will turn”.

Others want local problems solved. “It’s hard to make people realise that the Lok Sabha MP cannot get local problems fixed,” he says. “Yet, I had to call an engineer to look into some of the drainage issues that our locality has been facing.” At the end of the day, a meeting is held at Shetty’s house discussing what kind of response they got, and how they should go about the next day’s campaign. 

After these two rounds, the BJP ordained door-to-door campaigning starts. This time, they are aiming for three rounds. The team completed the third round by March 31, the fourth by April 7, and the fifth by April 13.

Even though public campaigning is on till April 16, the last effective day of campaigning is April 14, the last Sunday before the polls, and a day after the Modi rally.

That day, J.P. received a call at 4 a.m. from work. He would have to come in as someone else had to take off on an emergency. His shift began at 6 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m. This gave him two hours to sleep and get ready for the rally near his home.

Shaktinagar, a locality on the eastern edge of Mangaluru, is formally a part of the Mangalore City Corporation. Lying on top of a hill with laterite houses, open grounds and mango trees all around, it has very little in common with the growing metropolis. A few signs of the creeping city are visible—apartments that go up to 30 floors, a Chinese restaurant, and a bar.

J.P. gets ready by 4 p.m., in a white shirt and saffron panche, a saffron towel around his neck. He walks to the Muthappa temple where the big “Main bhi Chowkidar” rally is scheduled to take off. This is the last big rally before polling. Around 200 men, women, and children are assembled, all with the saffron pete (turban) seen widely at the Modi rally. J.P. is one of the few who doesn’t sport one.

Standing next to him, the head of the band teaches the group beats to play during the march. Shakila Kava, the former Deputy Mayor of the city corporation, calls out to J.P.

“Not enough people for the rally, J.P.

“Ok, don’t worry. Let me see what I can do”.

He immediately starts working the phone, calling up a few people from work, asking them to come and bring more people. Half an hour later, ten bikes waving the BJP flag come up the hill. J.P. slaps one of them on the shoulder and signals the drummers to start.

At the head of the procession are the senior leaders from the area, including the Shakti Kendra president. They are followed by women and children. Bajrang Dal volunteers make up the end. Spaced in between are several people vigorously waving the BJP flags.

Inevitably, J.P. leads the slogan shouting for his section of the procession.

“Narendra Modi Sher Hai…. Rahul Gandhi Chor Hai”

“Har Har Modi.. Jay Jay Modi…

“Mithun Rai is a good-for-nothing.”

The procession marches to the top of the hill and then down. All along the walk, Gulmohar and copper pod trees with flowers offer some shade. People from houses nearby come out to watch. J.P. stops shouting slogans and works with the traffic warden to ensure the marchers occupy only one lane of the road. A little over a kilometre from where they start, the procession stops next to a bus bay on the road. The crowd splits into two circles along gender lines. A young man hops wildly on one leg at the centre of the men’s circle shouting “Modi Sher Hai.. Rahul Gandhi Chor Hai”. The women, not wanting to be outdone, sing in unison: “Mathomme… Modi...Mathomme...Modi (Once more... Modi...Once More...Modi..) ”. J.P. takes a flag and begins waving it wildly, the pole flexing to the limit of its tolerance.

A speech begins. The president of the Shakti Kendra regurgitates what Modi said a day earlier. J.P. takes off on a friend’s motorbike. The next speaker, former MLA Yogish Bhat begins speaking. “How’s the Josh?” he shouts. “High Sir,” the crowd responds, feebly.

J.P. returns in a van. They get out, go to the back of the van, and take out a large steel vessel. The speech concludes, and people start queuing up at the back of the van. Volunteers serve in paper cups a hot tangy drink, with generous amounts of pepper. After nearly two hours in the sun, the drink provides relief from the heat. People are chatting with each other, smiling and laughing.

J.P. suddenly darts into the van and brings out a garbage bag. He opens it out and nods to the woman next to him to throw her cup in it.