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On the frontiers of an ancient battle

This year, on Mahashivaratri in February, Karnataka’s BJP government led by the deeply religious B.S. Yeddyurappa decided to give devotees a gift they would cherish.

india Updated: May 12, 2009 00:42 IST
Hindustan Times

This year, on Mahashivaratri in February, Karnataka’s BJP government led by the deeply religious B.S. Yeddyurappa decided to give devotees a gift they would cherish.

So arrangements were made to import 50,000 litres of Ganga jal — water from the holy Ganges, believed to wash away all sins — from Rishikesh to Bangalore.

The chief minister himself inaugurated the distribution of this precious water, which was dispatched to more than 1,500 temples across the state.

The cost for all this was borne by unnamed friends of the BJP, state minister Krishnaiah Shetty said.

It could easily have been borne by the government itself, since Rs 130 crore had been allocated to temples in the state in the last budget.

“The two budgets Yeddyurappa has presented are religious documents more than financial documents,” says H.R. Ranganath, editor of Kannada Prabha, a popular local language daily in Karnataka.

It’s all part of an attempt to create a majoritarian Hindu state, says noted Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy.

And it appears to be succeeding. But is it really?

Noted contemporary historian Ramachandra Guha, a Bangalore resident, cites caste as a factor for the rise of the BJP in Karnataka. “Lingayat votes transferred from the Congress to the BJP over the last 15 years,” he says.

The Lingayats are a dominant caste in the state’s politics. They make up an estimated 18 per cent of the population, but wield influence far beyond their numbers.

Their rivals are the Vokkaligas, who constitute about 15 per cent of the state’s population.

Karnataka voted in the Lok Sabha elections on April 23 and 30. The results will be an indicator of how successful the majoritarian agenda has been.

Karnataka Youth Congress president Krishna Byregowda, the party’s candidate against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar in the Bangalore South Parliamentary constituency, also said Lingayat vote consolidation was a key factor in the BJP’s rise.

There was a hardcore rightist bloc in the state for years before the BJP came to power, he says, but this was a fringe. “You'll find it in any society.”

It was only after the Ayodhya movement of 1992 that the right wing began to gain influence throughout Karnataka. The process of collecting bricks and going to Ayodhya gave the BJP a network and a dedicated cadre, Byregowda says.

The year 1999 saw a BJP wave across India, he says, and 2004 was a Vajpayee wave, at least in Karnataka.

This brought the BJP to power as a coalition partner of H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular). When the Vokkaliga Gowda’s JD(S) pulled out of the government, denying Lingayat leader Yeddyurappa his time as chief minister, the Lingayats rallied behind Yeddyurappa.

The BJP gained from this, and came to power.

But “the great design of creating a majoritarian state is possible only if Hindus are not divided along caste lines, but united along communal lines,” says Ananthamurthy. And that is clearly nowhere near happening.

“Hindutva alone is not enough here,” says Kannada Prabha’s Ranganath. “Here, caste is a bigger factor than community in elections.”

The BJP will be hard pressed to retain all its seats, let alone gain any.

First Published: May 12, 2009 00:41 IST