What explains the sudden rise of Hindutva politics in Karnataka?, writes ALI Chougule

After Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka now appears to be the state of political experimentation that involves communal polarization, as a wave of communal unrest has swept through the state that was once known for religious harmony. Lately, the BJP-ruled state has seen a series of communal incidents meant to spread hatred and deepen the religious divide between Hindus and Muslims. For months now, Karnataka has been in turmoil as Hindutva groups launch campaign after campaign against minorities in the state.

Although the incidents have been localized, their recurrence is concerning. Obviously linked to the legislative elections due in a year, the situation is likely to continue, as the polarization is said to be aimed at helping the BJP to retain power in Karnataka, where the saffron party formed the government following defections from other parties. three years ago. Being in power allows the BJP and its right-wing supporters to conduct a socio-political experiment of radical ideas and issues that are in line with the BJP’s long-term strategies and agenda and will also polarize the electorate. .

From the anti-conversion bill and the hijab dispute to the ‘banning’ of Muslims from trading and setting up stalls at religious fairs associated with Hindu sites, from the strict enforcement of the verdict on the hijab from banning muslim girls from wearing hijab in exam halls to the proposal to introduce the Bhagavad Gita into the school curriculum and from the halal controversy to the call for a ban on speakers for azaan , Karnataka is witnessing a rigorous mobilization of Hindutva. There is clearly a method at play and a simplistic explanation of the aggressive and unconstitutional acts of Hindutva groups would miss the larger undercurrent. So what explains this sudden increase in Hindutva politics in Karnataka?

Apart from the ideological reasons, part of the answer lies in the fact that electorally the BJP is not firmly entrenched in the state. In the recent UP elections, Hindu emotional voting and polarization played a key role in the BJP’s victory. The formula of active mobilization of people against minorities which has been successfully tried in the heartland of Hindi, especially in UP, and in the western state of Gujarat, is now being played out in dramatic fashion in Karnataka for reasons elections and an ideological cause. Indeed, the BJP has never been able to secure a simple majority in Karnataka. On the two occasions when he formed the government, in 2008 and 2019, he had to concoct a majority by sowing dissension in the ranks of the opposition.

As in the rest of India, the history of the BJP in Karnataka began in the 1990s with the Ram temple movement and the decline of the United Janata Dal and Congress. But despite years of hard work by the BJP and its ideological partners, the party has been unable to build a stable base of support across the state. Indeed, state politics, with the exception of coastal Karnataka which is seen as a laboratory of hardline Hindutva, has been predominantly dominated by caste identities such as the Lingayats and Vokkaligas vying for the power. The BJP’s expansion in Karnataka has been mainly driven by the popularity of individual leaders like BS Yediyurappa and B Sriramulu who secure the support of their fellow caste voters. Thus, loyalty to these leaders, not loyalty to BJP ideology, was the main driver of BJP success in Karnataka.

But things changed after Yediyurappa was ousted as chief minister. Basavaraj Bommai, who took over as head of state in July last year, is considered a political lightweight with virtually no independent base in the state. In Yediyurappa’s absence, the BJP’s old caste reckoning is shaky, given that he had brought the state’s largest caste, the Lingayats, to the saffron fold. Therefore, the BJP is now seeking a more reliable and ideologically driven social base without the intermediary of individual leaders and banking on Hindutva to achieve this. The BJP and its front Hindutva organizations thus work to propagate hatred by projecting Hindus as victims of historical injustice, Muslims as perpetrators of injustice, and the Congress as an anti-Hindu party.

While fringe Hindutva groups continue to enforce the moral police, the government’s response has been either silence or tacit support. This has emboldened the perpetrators of hatred against Muslims, with the chief minister practically justifying the incidents of moral policing by saying they were mere reactions. Some believe that voters in Karnataka do not accept aggressive Hindutva. But there is no evidence that voters in Karnataka have a distaste for the politics of communal division. In the coastal region of Karnataka, for example, the BJP’s polarizing politics gave the saffron party good electoral results. The coastal experience appears to have given the BJP the confidence to try the same electoral strategy in other parts of the state.

Political observers are of the opinion that the recent aggressive and relentless attacks by Hindutva organizations against the lives, livelihoods and culture of Muslims in Karnataka are not surprising. What surprises, according to them, is only their appearance and not the substance. Indeed, reports suggest that even during the BJP’s first term in power between 2008 and 2013, minority communities were also the target of relentless attacks by Sangh Parivar ‘fringe groups’. Whereas previously these elements enjoyed indirect political support and protection, there is now open and articulate support provided by the government. Another difference would be the silent support given by castes, classes and dominant sections of society to Hindutva groups and their actions, which gives a kind of legitimacy to their aggression against minorities.

Thus, what was once a fringe phenomenon is now part of the mainstream in Karnataka. With the aggressive Hindutva now becoming part of the changing state politics and society, Karnataka is transforming the pattern of communal politics.

(The author is a senior freelance journalist based in Mumbai)

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Posted: Tuesday April 12th 2022, 08:34 IST

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