Bengaluru: The coastal region of Karnataka has long been referred to as the Hindutva laboratory by progressive thinkers and Congress leaders.
Now, with the BJP gaining ground in south Karnataka following an alliance with JD(S), there is ongoing debate in political circles about the BJP making Mandya district, considered the heartland of Vokkaligas, the new laboratory for Hindutva.
The discussion was triggered by a statement from Minister for RDPR and IT and BT, Priyank Kharge. He mentioned that the BJP and Sangh Parivar, having made the coastal region its Hindutva laboratory, are now active in Mandya district, conducting Hindutva experiments.
Kharge’s statement was followed by the BJP’s strong opposition to the removal of the flag of Lord Hanuman from a 108-feet-tall flag post on government land and the subsequent hoisting of the national tricolour.
Mandya district, along with other south Karnataka districts like Mysuru, Tumakuru, Kolar, Hassan, Ramanagara, Bengaluru Rural, Bengaluru Urban, Chikkaballapura, Chikkamagaluru, and Chamarajanagar, has a concentrated Vokkaliga population. The region traditionally supported former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, JD(S), and Congress parties. Even after Operation Lotus, the BJP struggled to make inroads.
The BJP’s Rath Yatra movement, opposition to Tipu Sultan Jayanthi, a series of communal incidents in the region, and attempts to glorify Vokkaliga warriors Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda as the slayers of Tipu Sultan did not yield results. Even controversies like the Hijab issue and the boycott of Muslim traders did not significantly help the BJP in this region.
As Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, gained prominence in the Congress party, the Vokkaliga vote bank tilted towards the grand old party in the 2019 assembly elections. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Dy CM Shivakumar’s challenge to the survival of JD(S) in the region compelled former PM Deve Gowda to forge an alliance with the BJP.
Amid internal strife within the Congress, the BJP, along with JD(S), has resolved its internal issues and presented a united front. The Hindutva forces and the BJP quickly capitalised on the Hanuman flag removal issue.
Hindu organisations have managed to hoist saffron flags atop every house in Keragodu village, where the Hanuman flag was removed, and they are on a mission to hoist saffron flags across the state, especially in Mandya and other south districts.
In response, the visibly upset Congress government has issued an order warning of legal action against any social media posts related to the flag removal incident that could trigger social unrest.
Priyank Kharge stated, “It seems the BJP won’t be at peace if society is peaceful. The BJP leaders have stooped to the low level of igniting fire in Mandya district for political gains.”
However, sources within the BJP and Hindutva forces explain that former CM and JD(S) State President H.D. Kumaraswamy, flaunting a saffron shawl at a programme, has sent a clear message to the Vokkaliga community.
Vivek Subbareddy, State Advocate Association President and BJP State Executive Member, explained to IANS that Congress Minister Priyank Kharge is unable to digest the fact that the people of Mandya possess spiritual feelings. After seeing the backlash, he is feared.
Hindu assertion is emerging like a volcano in the region where the Congress believed it would never happen. Regardless of the Congress’ attempts to suppress the feelings of the people, they are coming out in full force, according to Vivek Subbareddy.
The Congress should avoid playing politics with people’s feelings, religious flags, and their spirituality. When the Congress imposes prohibitions, the people tend to lean towards the BJP. In fact, the Congress has opened the doors for the BJP in the region, he stated.
Referring to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which gives absolute freedom for people to practise their religion, Vivek Subbareddy said if Congress resorts to taking down a flag that has been there for three decades, pressuring people, and imposing restrictions, it should remember the Shah Bano case during the late PM Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, which paved the way for the rise of the BJP at the national level.
Speaking to IANS, Congress’ national spokesperson and media and communications in charge, Kerala, Lavanya Ballal Jain, who hails from the coastal region of Karnataka, stated, “It’s election time, and there will be disruption by the BJP.”
She added, ‘It’s not surprising; what’s saddening is that the BJP believes in distracting people with bigotry. They have failed to deliver on the election promises of 2014 and 2019, and they are aware that all 25 MPs have failed to protect the interests of Karnataka.”
Lavanya further stated, “Hence, the BJP is resorting to their time-tested divisive politics. The politics of religion has worked for them in coastal Karnataka, at the cost of dropping in health and education indexes. Now they are planning on using the same methodology in Mandya, but, as seen here, their attempt is not a success.”
The Congress government has curtailed the BJP’s plans. Lavanya criticised the BJP for relying on history. According to her, people in coastal Karnataka are waking up to the downsides of bigotry, and it won’t be long before the BJP is shown the door in coastal Karnataka.”