Rough and tumble of coastal, hill politics

Code saffron: VHP activists at a Hindu Samajothsava in Mangaluru. The Sangh has a strong base on the coast.  

Select households, particularly in coastal and hill districts, have got the four-page pamphlet. Titled Campaign for the Nation’s Victory, it says that while the “global power of Hinduism” is on the rise, Karnataka has regressed to “the era of Ghazni and Mughals” under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

“Till now, no CM has entered a temple after eating meat,” reads one of the points under Mr. Siddaramaiah’s achievements. Also on the list of his alleged misdeeds are his “support for cow slaughterers”, attack on the Hindu religion through the “anti-superstition Act”, launching of the Mysuru Dasara celebrations as an atheist and honouring of a “genocidal” king through Tipu Jayanthi.

“It is only when pro-Hindu candidates win that Hinduism will be protected,” the pamphlet says.

This is part of a growing narrative during these elections, which Sanjay Patil, BJP MLA, declared was a contest “between Hindus and Muslims”.

With perhaps the strongest base of RSS cadre, the 33-seat coastal and Malnad region is where Hindutva politics has the most bite. In 1994, two years after the Babri Masjid demolition and subsequent riots, the BJP won 17 seats here, up from just three in the previous elections. In 2004, following a galvanisation of Sangh-affiliate bodies against the Sufi shrine Bababudangiri in Chikkamagaluru (“Datta Peeta” movement), the party registered its best-ever performance gaining 26 seats. In the elections prior to that, a strong anti-incumbency wave saw the BJP slump to seven seats, its worst performance since 1989.

Broader appeal

In its bid to return to power, the BJP is leaning heavily on Hindutva — “nationalist forces” against anti-nationals, as party workers term it for a broader appeal.

This time, the narrative revolves around the reported murders of 24 persons affiliated to various Sangh groups in five years. The State government says only nine murders were communal in nature. The BJP has held high-pitch rallies and protests demanding a National Investigation Agency probe into the murder of “nationalists” by “jihadis”.

“No government has insulted Hindus as much as this government. They celebrate Tipu Jayanthi by imposing prohibition orders in large parts of the State, they give aid to private Urdu schools while cutting aid to Hindu schools [referring to the government decision to discontinue funds to RSS leader K. Prabhakar Bhat’s school at Kalladka near Mangaluru] ... Hindus are angry,” says V. Sunil Kumar, BJP MLA in Udupi district and prominent face of the Hindutva movement.

If in 2013, RSS workers remained at a distance from the BJP’s re-election campaign, this time around, they have been active, fuelled by their anger against Mr. Siddaramaiah for his stance against the organisation.

In the BJP’s Bantwal office, where talk about “development” quickly makes way to a long tirade on defeating “terrorists”, Ramanath Rayee, secretary of the local unit, says: “RSS workers come for our meetings in large numbers. Hindu organisations are strong and ideologically linked, and if one in our family is killed, we all rise against injustice.”

The BJP’s aggressive Hindutva push is led by Shobha Karandlaje, MP; Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde, and C.T. Ravi and Mr. Kumar, MLAs, all known for fiery, provocative speeches. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and BJP president Amit Shah further the narrative, even asking Mr. Siddaramaiah to prove his Hindu credentials by banning cow slaughter.

However, the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa, whose breakaway faction Karnataka Janata Paksha did hold some sway among minority voters in 2013, remains out of the Hindutva campaign. In BJP rallies, it is apparent that Mr. Hegde gets the more raucous welcome. “Mr. Hegde is an extremist and his views are popular among a group of motivated workers,” says a senior party leader who is considered a hardliner himself. “Yeddyurappa remains a face that is accepted throughout the State.”

Congress counter

As election day approaches, the Congress, as seen in Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits, is seeking to counter Hindutva by positioning itself as a “secular Hindu” party as opposed to the BJP’s communal image. Mr. Siddaramaiah has repeatedly responded that he was a “true Hindu” — after all, his name is “Sidda-Rama”.

B. Ramanath Rai, Forest Minister and six-time MLA, believes the Hindutva strategy has run its course. “Every election, they say we are anti-Hindu. People are tired of it. We are more Hindu than the BJP. We give patronage to temples and places of worship of other religions too ... People know that in the communal murders, it is not the Congress workers who are involved, but those of the Sangh Parivar and Popular Front of India,” he says.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 9:58:32 PM |

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