Free Press Journal

Divide and rule in Karnataka


The Siddaramiah Government in Karnataka seems hell-bent on dividing the people in order to try and retain power in the forthcoming Assembly poll. For some months now, with an eye on the election, the chief minister has instigated blatantly parochial moves aimed at fuelling ultra sub-nationalism. The hidden hand behind the protests to black out the names of public places, including railway stations, written in Hindi clearly came from him.

Though the names of public places were written in the usual three languages, that is, Kannada, Hindi and English, only Hindi names were sought to be erased. The idea was to suggest that the Opposition BJP, which is making a concerted bid to dislodge him from power in the coming poll, was a champion of Hindi and wanted to suppress all other regional languages. Again, the move to have a separate flag for the State was meant to advertise his love for a separate Kannada identity. Other acts, such as well-publicised visits to various maths and mandirs and to make substantial grants and donations on such visits, were part of the same crude strategy. He has designedly sought to outdo the RSS-BJP at its own game of pandering to the sectional interests among the majority community.

But none of the above acts matches in its sheer audacity, and potential for inflicting lasting damage on the people of Karnataka, than the recent decision of the Siddaramiah Government to bestow on the Lingayats, the status of a separate religion. This will not only divide the wider Hindu society, it will leave the Lingayats themselves woefully divided. The Lingayats, who constitute 17 percent of the Karnataka population, are a strong support-base of the BJP, with the former chief minister Y S Yeddyurappa, himself a Lingayat, enjoying sway over the community. The proposal to bestow a separate status on the Lingayats as distinct from the Hindus is meant to divide the BJP base, especially when Yeddyurappa during the  brief period  he had floated his own regional party, had pressed for the separate tag.

Founded by the 12th century reformer-saint, Basavanna, the Lingayat sect was an antidote to the practice of casteism and ritualism that had come to pollute Hinduism. Whether the sect was a separate religion outside Hinduism was an arguable question, with the community itself divided almost equally between those who believe it is, while others argue that it is very much an integral part of Hinduism. The fact that over the centuries, several seers and saints have sought to reform Hinduism, wanting to rid it of its evil practices such as casteism and inane rituals, does not in any way suggest that they were keen on dividing the Hindus. No. Their objective was to unite Hindus by ending casteism and other such divisive practices.

However, Siddaramiah’s objective was limited to dividing the Lingayats and thus weaken the BJP core-base in the State. He had a committee of so-called experts recommend the recognition of Lingayats as a separate religious faith and hurriedly accepted its recommendation. The ball was pushed into the Centre’s court. Whether the Centre accepts the decision or rejects it, or sits on it, Siddaramiah has got his propaganda tool to exploit in the coming poll. Whether or not he realised it, granting the Ligayats a separate status outside of Hinduism is bound to encourage several other caste-groups around the country to seek a distinct religious identity outside the Hindu fold.

This will open the floodgates for the eventual fragmentation of  the Hindu society, as we know it now. Undoubtedly, such pernicious political games by Congress leaders have received encouragement from the newly-installed party president. He himself donned the saffron colours in the recent Gujarat election. Now in Karnataka, the party has most blatantly sought to divide the Hindus with an eye on the coming poll. Such degeneration of the party, self-avowedly secular, underlines its desperation. People should guard against encouraging downright irresponsible conduct.