'Ram Sene or Bajrang Dal were supposed to be fringe elements, but with the BJP in power, they have become mainstream elements.'
'The government is either keeping quiet or indirectly supporting them.'
Early January 2022. Muslim students wearing a hijab were not allowed inside a government junior college in Udupi.
Soon, all over the state Hindu students in saffron shawls started stopping any Muslim girl wearing a hijab, from entering several schools and colleges.
Because of the widespread protests, the government had to close all educational institutions for some time.
In February, the Karnataka high court issued an interim order restraining all students from wearing any form of religious attire.
Next in line of attack was halal meat. Many Hindu organisations started an aggressive campaign to ban all halal-certified products, mainly meat, in Karnataka.
These organisations asked all Hindus to boycott halal meat.
Then, Muslim traders were banned from setting up stalls during the temple festival in Udupi. This also was followed up by other temples in the state.
This is today's Karnataka.
"Every day, one issue or the other crops up. Even before one issue dies down, another one arises. This is to keep people away from the real problems. Who is talking about inflation? Who is talking about unemployment?," former Union minister M Veerappa Moily, who was also Karnataka's Congress chief minister from 1992-1994, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier in the first part of a two-part interview.
The hijab row, the ban on halal meat, not giving permission to Muslims to set up stalls at temple festivals, threats against minorities... How much has Karnataka changed from the days you were the chief minister 30 years ago?
What we see today is a phenomenon created by the present government. As elections near, they create this kind of a situation to polarise votes.
As per our Constitution, all citizens will have to be treated equally.
Our Constitution also has given a guarantee to every citizen to practice his or her religion.
Whether it is hijab or halal, or boycotting Muslim merchandise... this is unknown in the history of Karnataka.
By indulging in these activities, they have made it not just a national but an international issue.
Karnataka appears to be leading the country in hate politics...
This kind of hate politics is peculiar to India. The BJP wants to polarise voters under some issue or the other. But here in Karnataka, much before the elections itself, the BJP government is doing it.
Karnataka is famous for people belonging to all religions living harmoniously.
The first Kannada poet, Adikavi Pampa, had said the entire mankind is one.
You read any ancient Kannada literature, all of them talk about mankind as one.
All of them say every religion should survive for the peace of the country. That's the kind of history we have.
In the Bababudan Giri hill, you will see a Dattatreya Pitha and by its side, a dargah, and they have co-existed for hundreds of years.
There are many such temples and dargahs existing side by side.
When the Sringeri Mutt was attacked by the Marathas, it was Tipu Sultan who came to the rescue of the Swamiji there. He also replenished the gold taken away by the Marathas.
Are you pained by the way Kannada society has changed?
I am totally pained. I do not know how to express my pain.
The problem today is when you say something, they say, you are supporting the mujahedeen!
They are attacking helpless people to make their lives miserable.
Do you feel Hindus, in general, have become anti-Muslim now?
I don't think so. These actions are by some fringe elements who have allegiance to the BJP.
This Ram Sene or Bajrang Dal were supposed to be fringe elements, but with the BJP in power, they have become mainstream elements.
The government is either keeping quiet or indirectly supporting them.
Every day, one issue or the other crops up. Even before one issue dies down, another one arises.
This is to keep people away from the real problems. Who is talking about inflation? Who is talking about unemployment?
How long can a party continue with hate politics and keep people away from real issues?
They are encouraged by the recent victories, particularly in UP as Yogi spoke in this language.
Now they think that they can win all the elections if they indulge in hate politics and speak in this language.
The RSS, Bajrang Dal, etc are now intoxicated with power.
But in southern India, the BJP is in power only in Karnataka, and at no point have they won a majority here.
They came to power by hijacking MLAs from other parties.
On their own, they were not elected to rule the state both times.
So, they feel they have to do something to provoke and polarise the voters so that they can come back with a majority next time.
I have not seen hate politics of this proportion at any point in India.
Bangalore is known as the Silicon Valley of India with so many international companies having their offices in the city. Now that what is happening in the state is written about everywhere, do you think this will affect the business atmosphere in Bangalore negatively?
Definitely. Kiran Majumdar Shaw recently said these incidents would affect investments in the state.
Azim Premji also came out with a statement saying he would invest in Telangana as the atmosphere over there is peaceful.
Both Azim Premji and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are well-known and respected industrialist leaders in the state.
If such eminent industrialists feel like not investing in Karnataka, what about investors from other parts of the world? This is going to be a disaster for Karnataka.
The other day, the Tamil Nadu finance minister said that many firms from Bangalore expressed their desire to set base in Tamil Nadu because of the poisonous atmosphere there.
This is very disappointing for the state. It is also a dangerous trend.
Once, we were competing to be the number one industrialised state in the country by attracting investments.
In the background of these incidents, it is going to be a disaster for Karnataka in attracting investments.
- Part II: 'Modi can be defeated'
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com