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'Hindutva is the language you speak today'

June 01, 2023 18:25 IST
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'Education played the most significant role in entrenchment of Hindutva ideology in coastal Karnataka.'

'Teachers of most of the schools, junior colleges, degree colleges and universities are active agents of Hindutva propaganda.'

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party Primary Election Campaigner Narendra D Modi greets BJP supporters at a roadshow for the Karnataka assembly elections. Photograph: ANI Photo

Professor Rajaram Tolpadi of the Department of Political Science at Mangaluru University, explains to Prasanna D Zore/ how entrenchment of Hindutva in coastal Karnataka is different from other parts of the state, how the imposition of the Emergency in June 1975 helped Dakshina Kannada become a Hindutva laboratory and how educational institutions helped the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh establish the Hindutva sway in the three districts of Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada that make up coastal Karnataka where the BJP won 13 out of the 19 assembly seats it contested in the May 10, 2023 election despite a Congress sweep in the rest of the state.


IMAGE: Voters queue outside a polling booth in Mangaluru to cast their votes for the Karnataka assembly elections. Photograph: PTI Photo

While the Congress swept almost the entire state, it could not wrest coastal Karnataka from the BJP. Why?

The BJP's electoral strength in coastal Karnataka -- comprising three districts of Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada (and having 19 assembly seats) -- needs to be understood in terms of the very specific nature of Hindutva entrenchment in this particular region.

For example, in Uttara Kannada, whose district headquarters is Karwar in Udupi, and in Dakshina Kannada, whose district headquarters is Mangaluru (Mangalore), and in other parts of the state like Coorg, Chikkamagalur and Shimoga, are in my opinion, some places where (political) Hindutva has made a significant civil society entrenchment.

Now, whatever shifts that has taken place in terms of caste equations -- like the Lingayat and Vokkaliga votes (in favour of the Congress in 2023) -- actually changed the complexion of the election results in the rest of the state compared to the three districts (of coastal Karnataka) I was talking about.

Other than the presence of a very small percentage of Vokkaligas in Puttur (a set the Congress won) and Sullia (in Dakshina Kannada district, which the BJP won), the caste composition in these districts is very different.

In Dakshina Kannada, the Billavas (OBCs, toddy-tappers), the Mogaviras (OBCs, fishing community), and communities like the Muslims (24 per cent), Christians (8.2 per cent), Brahmins, Bunts (the Shettys and the Rais) and Jains are some of the castes that matter in terms of electoral arithmetic.

There has been no significant shift in terms of the political opinions of these significant castes and communities in Dakshina Kannada, in this particular election.

The Billavas, Mogaviras, Bunts, Jains and Brahmins continued to vote for the BJP and have remained a loyal vote bank of the party.

How is the Hindutva entrenchment in coastal Karnataka different from other parts of Karnataka?

In Chikkamagluru the nature of (Hindutva) entrenchment rides on the back of ritualistic practices like Baba Budangiri (associated with the Baba Budangiri temple in the district) which represents a different kind of a trajectory of Hindutva entrenchment.

In the three coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada the Hindutva entrenchment is actually deeper and began finding roots almost 30 years ago, in terms of a very identifiable process which could be traced back to 1988-1989, coinciding with (Lal Kishenchand) Advani's rath yatra (to solicit support for the Ram temple in Ayodhya).

Perceptible, large scale polarisation (in these three districts) began during that time.

Although this particular region was divided and communal tendencies prevailed during the 1960s, 1950s and even during the Independence movement, the post 1989 scenario saw a very systematic entrenchment of Hindutva politics in coastal Kanartaka, particularly in Udupi and Mangalore; systematic because it was very well articulated, well planned, and a well-oiled machine.

IMAGE: A Bharatiya Janata Party road show in Suratkal in the Mangaluru City North constituency. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Bharath Shetty Y/Twitter

Who should be credited for making Hindutva a well-oiled machinery in coastal Karnataka?

Undoubtedly, the RSS played a big role in consolidating and strengthening political Hindutva here.

The anti-Emergency movement (imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi in June 1975) opened the floodgates for the growth of Hindutva ideology in general and the growth of the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP; the Sangh Parivar's student arm) to entrench itself into different sections of civil society in this region.

The ABVP in particular struck strong roots among the youth and students.

But 1989 onwards, you have the systematic expansion of the RSS shakhas (local units of mobilisation) and they very distinctly attempted and succeeded in converting Dakshina Kannada as their Hindutva laboratory.

What kind of caste arithmetic and socio-religious divide exists in coastal Karnataka? How did this help BJP continue to maintain a stranglehold in this belt?

I cannot say much about Uttara Kannada, as most of my studies (about entrenchment of Hindutva) are limited to Dakshina Kannada; there is a significant presence of the Muslims (about 24 per cent) in this particular region (Dakshina Kannada) and there is also a significant presence of the Christian community (8.2 per cent), which are conventionally anti-BJP.

There is a significant concentration of Dalits and tribes, which were with the Congress since the 1960s and 1970s.

Interestingly, post the Advani rath yatra -- and because of the mushrooming and brainwashing of these people at the RSS shakhas since the mid-1970s -- they were drawn towards the BJP in significant numbers.

The story of the three decades between the 1970 and 2000 is the story of the decline of the Congress and the emergence of Hindutva in Dakshina Kannada.

In terms of the expansion of the social base of the BJP, they have significant clout among the OBCs like the Billavas and the Mogaviras with a huge presence here.

In fact, two winning candidates in this particular election -- Yashpal Suvarna from Udupi, Umanatha Kotian from Moodabidri -- are from the Mogavira community.

Put together, the Billavas and the Mogaviras make up for almost 40 per cent voters in Dakshina Kannada.

These two communities are now completely under the shadow of political Hindutva preached by the BJP and RSS.

Add to this combination the strength of significant and traditional votes of the Dalits, tribes, Brahmins, Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs), Bunts and the Jains and you would understand why the Congress couldn't wrest coastal Karnataka from the BJP.

Till the 1960s and 1970s these communities were solidly behind the Congress.

How did the RSS and BJP succeed in taking over this strong vote bank from the Congress?

The 1989 rath yatra was a landmark year for the RSS and its political offshoot, the BJP. In fact, the Billavas and the Mogaviras -- the beneficiaries of the land reform laws brought in by Devaraj Urs (a two-term Congress chief minister of Karnataka) -- are now with the BJP.

Despite being the major beneficiaries of the land reforms ushered in by the Congress, the Billavas and Mogaviras got attracted towards the BJP


There are two or three immediate causes that come to my mind.

These people saw an ideological bankruptcy in the Congress. The Congress was not able to actually project how land reform was their effort and that it was the Congress leadership who brought in land reforms that majorly benefitted the Mogaviras and the Billavas.

In fact, the emergence of Devaraj Urs, in itself, represented a new kind of leadership within the Congress.

Otherwise, it is always the tussle between the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas (to become the chief minister), in the larger context of Karnataka's political battlefield.

Devaraj Urs came to prominence because of a new kind of a social engineering, that put under its umbrella a combination of backward castes and led to emergence of a certain kind of progressive, socialist approach (to policy making and governance).

Lot of people began to see in Devaraj Urs a distinct kind of a socialist leader, although he doesn't belong to any of the former socialist camps.

Despite being an Arasu (a backward caste which is not so dominant as the Lingayats or the Vokkaligas) Urs was successful in winning the confidence of the OBCs and broke the Lingayat-Vokkaliga dominance. He was the first non-Lingayat, non-Vokkaliga chief minister of Karnataka.

The socio-political ideology and electoral arithmetic that Devaraj Urs weaved in Karnataka was not properly communicated to the larger people.

The Congress couldn't articulate its successes, achievements, contributions that ushered in for the welfare of the state's people.

With the Congress failure the BJP got an opening to tap the Lingayats and concentrated its efforts in preaching political Hindutva in the state.

The Sangh Parivar brought in a measure of Hindutva orientation into the cooperative and pro-environment movements in the state and successfully proliferated into these movements.

And then the media too got hugely Hindu-ised.

Uttara Kannada is a tribally populated belt and there were visible attempts by the Church to actually reorganise the tribes and the RSS exploited the conversions to seed an anti-Christian, anti-Church sentiment in this region.

IMAGE: Students wearing saffron shawls stage a protest against hijab wearing students being permitted to enter classrooms outside a college in Karnataka. Photograph: PTI Photo

To my mind, other than the factors we discussed, education played the most significant role in entrenchment of Hindutva ideology in coastal Karnataka.

Teachers of most of the schools, junior colleges, degree colleges and universities are active agents of Hindutva propaganda.

More importantly, to me, the kind of education that we have in Dakshina Kannada is a very positivistic education -- medical, engineering, MBA, commerce. No serious education in the social sciences, literature, fine arts.

Equally importantly, we are imparting value-neutral education in this part of the state.

The education institutions are also spatially located in terms of castes and communities. You have Christian institutions. You have Muslim institutions. You have Bunt institutions. You have Brahmin institutions. You have GSB institutions.

Educational institutions are now synonymous as institutions of these communities.

IMAGE:Students wearing saffron shawls block a road during a protest over the hijab controversy in Shimoga, February 8, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo

To me, Hindutva is not merely a set of organisations. Hindutva is the language that you speak today.

The kind of chaste Sanskritised Kannada, which earlier only RSS workers used to represent, has now become the language of the Billavas and Mogaviras.

Today, they speak the same chaste, Sanskritised Kannada. It has crept into our language, our mentality; the way of looking at what society is; the very idea of culture is so Brahminical now.

Also, two social rituals are very popular in Dakshina Kannada. Bhoota Aradhane (calling the spirits or ancestors and worshipping them) and the second is Yakshagana (street plays, folk plays that involve portrayals of characters from religious mythologies).

Yakshagana has played a significant role in Hindutva entrenchment; the actors who portray the religious characters are mostly upper caste actors and since the last three or four decades there is a new generation of artists in Yakshagana who very effectively use this platform for the propagation of Hindutva ideology.

Yakshagana plays are organised frequently in every village, every corner so much so that it has become a part of the cultural routine of the people in Dakshina Kannada. You will have a Yakshagana play in one part of Dakshina Kannada or the other.

This cultural, religious entertainment is packaged smartly to propagate political Hindutva. And, it happens frequently as part of the cultural routine through which the RSS spreads its agenda.

Regional histories (which used to be part of Yakshagana plays) have become less and less important today.

There is a Yakshagana prasang (episode) called Bappanadu Kshetra Mahatme -- about the Bappanadu Durga Parameshwari temple, one particular place of worship in Dakshina Kannada, a temple, which was established by a Muslim merchant eight centuries ago -- which is a great sight of communal harmony.

This was actually presented before the people with a lot of good faith. But now these episodes are not very popular; even when it is performed it is performed in the light of Hindutva.

I have seen lot of Yakshagana prasangas in the last 10 years or so, performed by younger ones, where the vanara sena (the troops of monkeys who helped Ram fight Ravan) is equated to the Bajrang Dal and there is lot of applause from the audience for this portrayal.

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