BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde and his controversial statements | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde and his controversial statements

Mar 13, 2024 04:06 PM IST

A profile of the parliamentarian whose statements against opponents, the Constitution and even historical monuments have divided opinions sharply

Controversies and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Anantkumar Hegde representing Uttara Kannada Lok Sabha constituency in Karnataka go hand in hand. In his parliamentary career, beginning from 1996 till the present date (with a five-year break from 1999 to 2004, when he lost the election to Margaret Alva of the Congress), Hegde is no stranger to controversies.

Karnataka BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde.(ANI) PREMIUM
Karnataka BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde.(ANI)

Speaking at an event in Siddapur in his constituency earlier this week, Hegde alleged that the previous Congress governments at the Centre had amended the Constitution in a manner that marginalised Hindus. “The Constitution requires amendments because the Congress has altered it fundamentally, introducing unnecessary provisions that undermine the Hindu community. Achieving this change necessitates a two-thirds majority,” he said and sought public support for the BJP to secure over 400 parliamentary seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, citing the need for such a majority to enact Constitutional amendments. His statements have drawn sharp criticism from the Karnataka Congress, which accused the BJP of attempting to tamper with the Constitution and questioned its commitment to BR Ambedkar's vision.

In a quick damage control, the BJP distanced itself from Hegde's remarks. BJP leader Gaurav Bhatia told news agency ANI: “It must be made clear: The statement reflects his personal views and is not a statement that reflects the views of the BJP with clarity. The party has taken cognisance of this statement made by Hgede and has also asked for clarification from him. It must be reiterated that every step that is taken by the BJP, every decision that is taken by the BJP is always in the interest of our country and consonance with the spirit of the Constitution.''

Also read: Legally Speaking | Can the fundamental principles of the Constitution be altered?

In 2017 too, as Union minister of state for skill development and entrepreneurship, he suggested changing the Constitution. “We will respect the Constitution, but the Constitution has changed several times and will change in the future too. We are here to change the Constitution and we'll change it.” At the same event, he urged people to identify with their religion or caste and ridiculed those who “claim[ed] to be secular.”

Hegde’s statements in January this year also kicked up a storm, when he called Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah a “boot licker”. With reports of some youth in Karnataka joining the Islamic State in Syria, Hegde said, “Karnataka is becoming a home for terrorists. I won't be shocked if Siddaramaiah will go ahead and hold a Kasab Jayanthi in future.”

According to A Narayan, professor of policy and governance at Azim Premji University, “There is a pattern to Hegde's call for changing the Constitution and prompt denial by the party bosses. His virulent attack on the Constitution holding it to be too pro-minority helps consolidate upper caste votes in favour of the BJP, more so in Hegde's Brahmin-dominated Uttara Kannada constituency. Then, the formal distancing of the party from his statements is to ensure that the Dalit voters who identify themselves with the Constitution are not displeased too much.”

Hegde’s use of unparliamentary language extended to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, whom he called a “hybrid specimen” on account of his parents’ different heritage, speaking at a function in Karwar on January 30, 2019.

A few days before that, Hegde made unsubstantiated claims that the Mughal-era monument Taj Mahal was originally a Shiv Mandir known as Tejo Mahalaya —according to Hegde’s claims, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had bought the temple from a king named Jayasimha. Many questioned the unfactual basis of these claims. Dinesh Gundu Rao, who was the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president at the time, questioned Hegde’s achievements as a Union minister. Hegde responded by referring to Rao as “a guy who ran behind a Muslim lady” (Rao is married to a Muslim).

Now 56, Hegde reportedly caught the BJP leadership’s attention soon after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1993. A case of rioting, unlawful assembly and promoting enmity was booked against him. In 1994, he broke the police cordon and hoisted the national flag at the Idgah maidan in Hubballi.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which collates the affidavits of candidates during elections, Hegde declared that he is facing charges ranging from promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

His induction into the Union cabinet in 2014 surprised many, as he had overtaken many seniors from the state. But the BJP leadership realised he was becoming more of a liability than an asset with his statements supporting Hindutva ideologies. For instance, in 2016, at a press meet in Sirsi, Karnataka, Hegde allegedly equated Islam to a “ticking time bomb of terror” that needed to be eradicated.

Soon after taking charge as minister, he was caught on camera slapping a doctor of a private hospital in Sirsi in Uttara Kannada for allegedly not paying enough attention to his mother, who had suffered multiple fractures after a fall at home. The footage showed him grabbing the doctor by the throat and slamming him against a wall.

Residents of Hegde’s constituency claim that he visits them only when elections are announced and every five years when the constituency goes to polls. “We are proud that he has been raising issues about Hindutva, but there has been no development work done in the constituency for 30 years. He has been winning only because the Congress is weak here,” Arun Kumar Vasanth Habbu, a voter said.

When the party was looking to replace BS Yediyurappa as the state unit president in 2019, Hegde’s name did the rounds for the post. The party picked MP Nalin Kumar Kateel and a sulking Hegde had not campaigned for the party during the 2023 assembly polls.

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