This fortnight

Polarisation game

Print edition : January 19, 2018

IN the context of the Gujarat election campaign, a few political commentators observed that every time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) felt that it was on the back foot, it resorted to a communal campaign. In Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi resorted to rhetoric that hinted at religious polarisation. Assembly elections are due in Karnataka in early 2018. The BJP, weakened by factionalism and devoid of any serious issue to target the Congress with, has started preparing the ground for a communal campaign. A series of events by the party make this clear.

Datta Jayanthi row

On December 3, thousands of cadre of Hindutva groups such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad gathered at the Sri Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swamy Dargah in the hills of Chikkamagaluru for a Datta Jayanthi programme. The dargah is a syncretic shrine whose status has been disputed over the past few decades after Hindutva groups claimed that it was only a Hindu place of worship.

The event saw the largest turnout over the past few years, with several BJP leaders, including party MLA C.T. Ravi, present. According to a press report, Ravi told the audience that they were “fighting for justice and in the Kurukshetra war, only those with truth and justice will win. In a democracy, we will not fight the war with bullets, but with the ballot.” His reference was to the delay in handing over the shrine to Hindus.

Soon after, the surcharged crowd broke through the barriers and uprooted tombstones in the burial ground in clear contravention of the Supreme Court order that prevents anyone from entering the area. In the past, the shrine has been referred to as the “Ayodhya of the south” and the BJP has used this status to polarise Hindu and Muslim communities in the hill districts, which also has a spillover effect in coastal Karnataka from where a vast number of Hindutva cadre are drawn.

On the same day, Pratap Simha, BJP MP representing Mysuru-Kodagu, violated prohibitory orders in Hunsur town. The district administration had designated a certain route for the Hanuma Jayanthi celebrations while the MP insisted on violating it. In a widely circulated video on social media, the MP is seen threatening police officials and barging through the barricade in his car. His rash action nearly injured police officials on duty while also leading to stray communal incidents in the area.

On December 6, a communal scuffle broke out in the town of Honnavar in Uttara Kannada district after the decomposed body of a youth, identified as Paresh Mesta, was found in a tank. Fuelled by rumours on social media, it mutated into a larger riot between two communities and spread to other towns such as Sirsi and Kumta in the district. BJP leaders were quick to claim the youth as one of their cadre and alleged that he had been tortured and murdered. Mesta’s father stated that his son had had no political affiliations.

The Uttara Kannada parliamentary constituency is represented by Union Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Anant Kumar Hegde, who has, in the past, made controversial statements against Islam. Shobha Karandlaje, the BJP MP from Udupi-Chikkamagaluru, also persisted with her claims that Mesta had been tortured and murdered by “jehadis”. The doctor who conducted the post-mortem stated that Mesta had not been tortured.

A few days after Mesta’s death, a rumour that a teenage Hindu girl had been assaulted by Muslim men reignited tension in Honnavar. While this was proved false, this did not stop Shobha Karandlaje from tweeting: “Jehadis tried to rape and murder a girl studying in 9th std near honnavar. Why is the govt silent about this incident? Arrest those who molested and injured this girl. Where are you CM siddaramaiah?”Honnavar police registered a first information report (FIR) against the MP under various sections of Indian Penal Code, including section 153, 153A and 505.

Parivartana rally

On December 21, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath participated in the BJP’s Parivartana Rally in Hubballi. Reports in the media said he accused Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of trying to convert Karnataka, “the land of Bajrang Bali”, into “a land of worshippers of Tipu Sultan”. Addressing the audience, Adityanath said: “It is now left to you to decide whether you want it to be a land where saints, spiritual leaders, and gods and goddesses are worshipped or a land of worshippers of Tipu.” Adityanath’s reference was to the State government’s commemoration of the eighteenth century ruler’s birthday on November 10 as Tipu Jayanthi for the past three years.

With senior leaders of the BJP in Karnataka, including several MPs, resorting to aggressive communal posturing, it is clear that the party lacks a clear agenda with which to challenge the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government. In all probability, the BJP’s communal pitch is only going to get shriller.

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

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