Saffron projectsVIKHAR AHMED SAYEED
|Hindutva continues to be the main agenda of the BJP in Karnataka, as is evident from the cattle slaughter Bill.|
A CAMPAIGN AGAINST cow slaughter launched by Sri Rama Sene activists in the presence of Sene leader Pramod Muttalik (third from left) and heads of various religious mutts in Belgaum. A file photograph.
THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly elections and managed to form the government in Karnataka in 2008. The electoral victory encouraged the hard-line elements in the party and organisations with Hindutva affiliation to advance their ideology in a spirited manner and stoke communal and cultural passions. In the coastal regions of the State, right-wing groups have used the cow-slaughter issue to create communal tensions. Allegations of cows being taken for slaughter usually trigger skirmishes.
In order to appease its core constituency, which began to demand that the pre-election promise of a ban on cow slaughter be fulfilled, the B.S. Yeddyurappa government introduced the controversial Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010. The Bill, which was passed by the State Assembly and adopted by the Legislative Council, seeks a blanket ban on the slaughter of milch animals and draught cattle. It is awaiting the presidential nod to become an Act. With a similar Bill passed by the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh in 2010 receiving presidential assent, right-wing groups are expected to renew their pressure. In the past year, several BJP hardliners kept grumbling about the delay in getting the President's nod for the Bill. The demand could become louder as the elections to the State Assembly, slated for 2013, draw closer.
The draconian Bill, which sought to replace the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act of 1964, proposes to ban the sale and consumption of beef. It has stringent clauses, as does the Madhya Pradesh Act. The 2010 Bill extends the clause on prevention of slaughter to “cattle”, which it defines as “cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock, buffalo male or female and calf of she-buffalo”. The 1964 Act restricted its scope to the slaughter of cows, calves of cows and calves of she-buffaloes and allowed the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffaloes if they were over 12 years of age or if they were no longer fit for breeding or draught or did not produce milk.
The other difference between the two pieces of legislation is the severity of the penalty provided for any violation of the Act. The 1964 Act provided for a maximum prison term of six months, whereas the 2010 Bill prescribes imprisonment extending up to seven years. This provision made people question the intentions of the BJP government because in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) imprisonment for such long terms is usually awarded for crimes of a heinous nature. Yeddyurappa maintained at that time that “severe penalties have been incorporated in the legislation only to ensure effective enforcement” and that his government “had not brought forth the legislation to put down the interests of any community or section of the people”.
For those who think that Hindutva is not the primary agenda of the BJP government, there have been some shrill wake-up calls. This is not surprising, considering the fact that the party has been mired in one political crisis after another ever since it came to power. Pushed to the wall, it barely managed to survive on several occasions.
Most recently, former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's political brinkmanship and his bid to wrest the top post from Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda made a mockery of the “party with a difference”. With the arrest of Bellary mining baron G. Janardhana Reddy in September 2011 and the resignation of his close associate B. Sriramulu from the party, the BJP seemed vulnerable. Sriramulu resigned his Assembly seat in August 2011 in the wake of his indictment by the Lokayukta report on illegal mining. He quit the BJP days before the November 30 byelection to Bellary (Rural). He gave a jolt to the BJP by winning the election as an independent with a huge margin.
The revival of the strident Hindutva plank is perhaps a move to once again consolidate the party's core vote bank and renew its commitment to its fundamentalist ideology. This was evident when six members of the Sri Rama Sene (SRS), a Karnataka-based fringe group in the Sangh Parivar active in the business of hate-mongering, hoisted the Pakistani flag in the compound of the tahsildar's office in Sindagi town in Bijapur district on New Year's Eve.
The intention was probably to blame Muslims, who form a significant chunk of the population in the region, for the act and establish that their loyalties lay with Pakistan. Dr D.C. Rajappa, District Superintendent of Police, caught the culprits, all dyed-in-the-wool Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) veterans.
MEMBERS OF THE Dalit Sangharsha Samithi demonstrating in front of the District Collector's office in Bangalore against the Bill proposing a blanket ban on cattle slaughter. A file photograph.
The SRS gained notoriety when its cadre attacked young women in a pub in Mangalore in January 2009. Pramod Muttalik, SRS leader and the rabid mouthpiece of the extreme right wing in the State, has a history of targeting religious minorities in his public speeches and statements to the media; he continues to operate, shielded by the BJP government. He is suspected to be involved in several communal disturbances that have occurred in the State since the BJP came to power. In the Bijapur incident, the finger of suspicion was first pointed at local Muslims, and tension began to flare up. But the facts clearly revealed the role of the SRS in the shameful act.
Home Minister R. Ashok was forced to admit that SRS cadre were involved in the “flag hoisting” act. But the Minister, who was stubborn in his efforts to ban the Popular Front of India (PFI), a cadre-based Muslim group, in 2011, dismissed any possibility of banning the SRS, which has been responsible for fanning communal tensions in the State.
BHAGVAD GITA IN SCHOOLS
In another instance of its effort to please its core constituency, the BJP is trying to make the study of the Bhagvad Gita compulsory in State government schools. While its attention seems to be focussed on this aspect of “spiritual” education, the government is simultaneously going ahead with a move to close down schools that have fewer than five students. (There are 590 primary schools and 27 higher primary schools in this category, many of them in remote areas, and they could face closure.) Clearly, its priorities seem to be misplaced.
With strong protests across the State by progressive groups and Dalit and minority organisations, the proposal was put on the back burner for a while but resurfaced in January with Sadananda Gowda stating that the government was serious about introducing the Gita as part of the curriculum in schools. Opposition parties have derided the move, while leading educationists have asked uncomfortable questions on how the study of the Bhagvad Gita could become a part of secular education.
Ever since the BJP came to power, Christians in the State have felt increasingly insecure. The violent attacks on churches in Mangalore and other parts of the State in 2008 are a grim reminder. Justice B.K. Somasekhara Commission's report on the 2008 church attacks, which was submitted in January 2011, has been gathering dust while sporadic attacks on churches and Christian clergy continue across the State.
Twenty-four cases of attacks on pastors were recorded until October 2011 for alleged forcible religious conversions. While the charge itself was dubious in many cases, local mobs led by members of various Sangh Parivar groups decided to mete out justice on their own. In one such case, Reverend Sangappa Hosamani Shadrak of Mudhol village in Bagalkot district was attacked by 20 Bajrang Dal activists on August 21, 2011, when he was leading a prayer service. Making a direct reference to several such events, the powerful Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, which met in Bangalore on February 1, came down heavily on the State government, saying that it had failed to protect Christians.
According to a report published in Tehelka by Imran Khan (in its issue dated October 28, 2011), the Mangalore-based daily Hosa Digantha (New Dawn), which is known to be a right-wing newspaper, has been accorded “state newspaper” status although its circulation does not meet the required criterion. Objections by officials in the State Information Department were overlooked to grant the status, making the newspaper a favoured outlet for government advertisements. Its editor, Chudamani Aiyyar, is an RSS activist, the Tehelka report says.
The BJP government has also been active on the legislative front. It introduced the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2011. The Bill was defeated in the Assembly on December 17, 2011, by a single vote. It was opposed on the grounds that the government had assured the Supreme Court that it would bring religious mutts and temples attached to them under the purview of the Act but had failed to do so. The Bill provided for the formation of a State-level Rajya Dharmika Parishat and Zilla Dharmika Parishats at the district level with powers to administer temples.
The second amendment Bill has been passed by the Legislative Council and will now be taken up by the Assembly, where it is likely to face serious opposition. Opposition leaders in the Council, including Janata Dal (Secular) leader M.C. Nanaiah, have pointed out that management committees of prominent temples run by the Muzrai Department would be infiltrated by BJP politicians and they could use these platforms to further the Hindutva agenda. Religious Endowments Minister V.S. Acharya, moved the Bill in the Assembly.
Acharya, a known hardliner, recently embarrassed himself and the BJP when he defended the inhuman practice of made snana, an annual ritual in the Kukke Subramanya temple near Mangalore. The practice has been severely condemned by Dalit organisations and human rights activists as it involves members of the lower castes rolling over plantain leaves containing the leftover meals of Brahmins. There has been a widespread demand to ban this indignity, but the BJP has ignored it.
With the spate of illegalities associated with its regime, the BJP is turning to Hindutva to salvage its political reach.