Are Hindus in Karnataka in grave danger?
You can answer that question in many ways.
I had an aunt who read eight newspapers every morning. She would have angrily said, ‘Yaava huchch munde maga heliddu?”
Translation: which SOB is saying this?
But you can answer that question without breaking into expletives like my aunt. One way is to pose a counter question, or a series of counter questions.
# Is the Earth flat?
# Have 15 lakh rupees been deposited in your bank account by Narendra Modi?
# Is Arnab Goswami the most sober, balanced, non-partisan anchor on TV?
If your answers are, no, no and no, respectively, your answer is most likely to be “No” to the question: “Are Hindus in Karnataka in grave danger?”
No, as in illa, illai, ledhu, nahin, nyet.
Still, to see singers of the sangh gharana chanting a tired old raga about the plight of Hindus in Karnataka makes you wonder if the “Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan” party is lost for ideas as it readies for the assembly elections in the State.
Or, worse, if it has lost its mind.
Or, if there is a more devious gameplan at play.
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The plight of Hindus at the hands of a pseudo-secular, minority-appeasing Congress is not a new discovery for the BJP. It has drummed this over and over again into impressionable heads for a quarter of a century.
You would expect young and ambitious BJP politicians in Karnataka like Anantkumar Hegde, Naveen Kumar Kateel, Shobha Karandlaje, or even Pratap Simha, all of them MPs, to make a headline-grabbing charge like this in an election season.
After all, they are the designated flame-throwers, the rabble rousers.
All of them are from the coastal belt or the Malnad region, baptised by the fires of “polarisation”, and the embers of “communal mobilisation”.
This is not a new phenomenon in that part of the world. It has gone on for over two decades. Maybe more.
You could even expect the BJP’s old guard like former deputy Chief Minister K.S. Eswarappa to say stuff like that, because even in peace time, they provide no proof that there is any synaptic link between what their brain processes, and their tongue spouts.
But when the BJP as a registered political party, recognised by the Election Commission and sworn to protect the Constitution of India—with a blue tick from Twitter—goes official with some fantastic fear-mongering you are forced to sit up and take notice.
Recently BJP MPs took their “Hindu Lives in Danger” protest to Delhi. They held placards, sat in protest, gave interviews.
Five days ago, the BJP’s official Twitter handle in Karnataka put out this message.
This is a staggering tweet even by the rather low standards of Indian political discoure.
It assumes many things. It assumes that the BJP is the sole protector of Hindus in Karnataka. It talks as if there is fear on the street. It talks as if there has been a bloodbath. It uses some newly learnt words like “annihilation”. And worse, it equates a democratically elected CM of a state, whom it has called “Mulla Siddaramaiah” with “jihad”.
The goalpost, you will notice, has subtly shifted in the hashtags: from “Congress-mukt Bharat” to “#JihadimuktaKarnataka”, to “#HinduvirodhiCongress.
Words like Jihad and jihadi—or “pink revolution” or “Pakistan”—is usually RSS-BJP shorthand for Muslims, a kind of a Morse code.
But if you are a young man or woman in Karnataka, or if you are a middle-aged man or woman, whether you are a Hindu or not, you should ask: WTF?
Not surprisingly, many are seeing through the charade. Nitin Pai, a Kannadiga who runs a think tank called Takshashila in Bangalore, tweeted back to the BJP.
It is not just Kannadigas who think this is a joke.
Even non-Kannadigas are seeing through the farce.
Delhi-based journalist Aditya Menon tweeted that if this was the way the BJP was going to address the Karnataka elections, the party didn’t need to create a manifesto.
Raghu Ram, the MTV executive who created Roadies, termed the BJP Karnataka claim as a “hate message”.
This is how clear the BJP’s strategy is to lay citizens. So why is the BJP making such an issue of it?
This is why I thought we need to speak about this, because very soon the TV crews with designated reporters, some of them in war fatigues, will be despatched from Delhi to create the mahol, the atmosphere
And they will try to turn Karnataka into Kannur with live shows.
You can bet the bottom of your bisi bele baath that one of these charlies will soon call Karnataka the “killing fields”, based on the BJP claim.
Any political party with a semblance of self-respect would take that as an insult, but the BJP it seems would like to wear it as a badge of honour.
The key reason, of course, is that keeping the communal pot boiling is a very important ingredient in the BJP recipe for elections.
Especially in communally sensitive pockets, like the west coast, and the Malnad region, where the percentage of Muslims is slightly higher than the state average.
Karnataka has a population of 6.25 crore according to the 2011 census. The state has the second highest Muslim population in South India after Kerala.
Hindus comprise 84%, a little over 5 crores.
Muslims are at 13%, about 80 lakhs.
But in the areas represented by M/s Hegde, Karandalaje, Kateel, the Muslim presence is slightly higher.
It is 74 per cent in Bhatkal.
24% in Dakshina Kannada.
16% in Kodagu.
14% in Uttara Kannada.
Those are precisely the places through which the BJP is taking out a ‘Jan Suraksha Yatra’, and you can imagine the slogans, speeches that must be going out.
Narendra Modi famously, notoriously said “Hum Paanch, hamare pachees” to incite Hindus against Muslims.
Something similar is playing out here, where in response to one of the tweets questioning its “hate message”, the Karnataka BJP talked vacuously of exploding Muslim numbers.
That is also not true.
50 years ago, in 1961, the Census put the Muslim population in Karnataka at nearly 10%. By that yardstick, a 13% presence today in 2018 looks larger.
But compared to the 2001 census, the Muslim population is stable in the state.
Yet, the Karnataka BJP likes to believe that Hindus are in danger because of the population explosion of Muslims.
An equally important reason is that Muslims form the second biggest vote bank in Karnataka after dalits and tribals.
Two out of three Muslims in Karnataka live in urban centres, which means that of the 80 lakh Muslims, about 50 lakh of them live in cities and towns.
One statistic I read showed that Muslims are in a majority in 22 out of Karnataka’s 248 towns, and their population is between 40-50% in another 20 of them. So, in roughly 40 towns, Muslim voters hold the aces.
K. Rehman Khan, the Congress politician, claims that Muslims are the deciding factor in at least 100 out of Karnataka’s 224 constituencies.
And 24 of those are in the three areas represented by Hegde, Kateel and Karandalaje.
So, raising the bogey of “Hindu Lives in Danger” is one way for the BJP to consolidate Hindu voters against a phantom.
And they are doing it in a variety of ways. Some conspicuous, some sub-conscious.
So they openly oppose the Congress government’s decision to celebrate Tipu Sultan‘s birthday, Tipu Jayanti.
They take out rallies through communally sensitive areas in towns in the name of Hanuma Jayanti.
They question Shaadi Bhagya, a scheme to provide incentives to poor couples, because shaadi has a Muslim connotation.
They question the “secular” nature of the Constitution, as Anantkumar Hegde did.
Inter-faith couples at bus stops are attacked in the name of love jihad.
They say the West Coast will burn if an RSS leader called Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat is arrested.
All this is mostly confined to the West Coast but its message seeps down to the rest of the state because the media repeats and amplifies it in infinite loop.
The balance of terror is attained.
All this also provides the backdrop to the bigger message, or what they think is their masterstroke, which is the alleged killing of BJP-RSS workers, which is quickly interpreted to imply that “Hindu Lives Are in Danger”.
And that the Congress is party to this.
As Sonia Gandhi herself admitted two days ago, the BJP has managed to convey to the people that the Congress is a Muslim party.
So, the BJP in Karnataka can afford to put out a blatantly communal message like this one.
A failed by-election in Kerala should have been a sobering experience for the Hindutva project, where too the BJP made a big song and dance over the killing of RSS workers and turned it into a “Hindu Lives in Danger” story.
The by-election was being held in Vengara.
Arun Jaitley visted the homes of RSS/BJP workers killed but not CPM workers.
The apostle of peace, Yogi Adityanath, lectured Kerala about medical facilities in the state, after hundreds of children had died in Gorakhpur.
Amit Shah took part in a Jan Suraksha yatra before his son Jay Amit Shah‘s troubles beckoned him back to Delhi.
Like in Karnataka, the words “jihad”, “jihadi”, “love jihad” flew around.
In the end, BJP got fewer votes in Vengara than in the previous election in 2016.
In spite of that experience, the BJP is now well set on its course of turning the Karnataka elections into a battle between pro-Hindu and anti-Hindu forces.
In spite of the fact, that a Lokniti survey shows that “one of every two Hindus reports having a Muslim as a close friend compared to one out of three in other states.”
The death of BJP-RSS workers in Karnataka, like in Kerala, is therefore being primed to be the cause celebre before the Karnataka elections of 2018.
At a recent rally, BJP president Amit Shah said:
The Siddaramaiah government has countered these claims repeatedly.
The state home ministry claims that of the 23 deaths over which BJP claims ownership, only nine died in communal clashes; 13 died due to other reasons.
Dinesh Gundu Rao, the working president of the Congress, tweeted that Hindutva forces themselves caused the deaths of three Hindus and five Muslims.
Yet by repeating it endlessly, and by exaggerating it, the BJP has put an official seal on the “Hindu Lives are in Danger” claim, conflating BJP karyakartas with Hinduism, although 5.13 crore Hindus are going about their lives peacefully, happily.
It calls Siddaramaiah ‘narahantaka‘ (a blood sucker), a word I last heard being used for the forest brigand Veerappan.
Of course, she doesn’t talk of the deaths of Gauri Lankesh and M.M. Kalburgi although they were Hindus too,
So why is the BJP, whose leaders make a big scene of eating at the homes of Dalits, doing this?
There can be only two reasons for this: ignorance or arrogance.
Ignorance: It has no idea of the South. It does not know that Kannadigas, more than anywhere else in India, do not believe that Hindus are more patriotic than minorities, or that Muslims are mostly violent, as Lokniti survey shows.
Arrogance: It does not care what South Indians think of this thuggish approach to politics, which endangers social peace and harmony built over centuries, as long as it fetches votes and seats.
The third reason could be that the BJP knows in Karnataka, as elsewhere, that it has no chance of gaining Muslim sympathies.
So stereotyping the community, creating a siege mentality, spreading fear among graduates of WhatsApp University is a no-risk gamble.
The Congress won a surprisingly large proportion of seats in the west coast in the last elections in 2013 despite a similar ‘atmosphere’. Many analysts think that was an aberration and the BJP may well be on the way to recapturing its hold. So by raking it up in a big way now, it is making sure.
James Manor, the University of London professor, wrote in EPW:
“Communal polarisation as an electoral strategy lacks promise except on the coast and in minor pockets, and pushing “hard Hindutva” can backfire as it did in the last election, which is why Yeddyurappa is not keen to harp on it.”
Yeddyurappa is said to have warned the rabble rousers to go easy, but the fact that they continue to do so, implies they could be marching to the beat of a different drummer from Delhi—or Nagpur.
Which means Yeddyurappa himself might not be on strong footing although he is the designated CM candidate.
To be fair, when he first became chief minister, in the Vajpayee-Advani era, Yeddyurappa appointed a Muslim MLC as minister. Under Modi and Shah will the BJP even give a ticket to a Muslim? They did not in UP or Gujarat.
11 Muslims were elected MLAs in the Karnataka Assembly in 2013. How many will make it this time will tell us how much the BJP’s “Hindu Lives in Danger” campaign has succeeded.