The Poison spreads

Even while ‘secular' Congress and Janata Dal has chosen compulsive stasis, the Hindutva brigade has consolidated its moral vigilantism in Karnataka, the new hate lab after Gujarat

Girish Nikam Bangalore/Delhi

The spate of attacks against the Christians and their prayer halls and churches in Karnataka, over the last month, has been part of a well-worked out plan of action of the Sangh Parivar. At the time of writing, over 55 instances of attacks have been reported from the districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi - bastions of the Sangh Parivar and BJP for decades now - as well as from neighbouring Chikamagalur. What is worrisome is that these attacks have now spread to a central district like Davanagere and even Tumkur and Chikkaballapur.

The sudden spurt in anti-minority incidents in the state can be directly attributable to the advent of the BJP government on its own strength (with the help of innovative defections), in May this year. The heightening of tensions seems to tactical - to raise the communal atmosphere with the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections in view. The BS Yeddyurappa government has adopted a policy of least resistance towards the sangh affiliated fronts which have been on a rampage for the last one month. The UPA government's decision to issue an advisory about the attacks has been dismissed as "merely advisory". This has come in handy for the BJP to launch a counter attack against the Centre and the Congress. However, when the second "advisory" was sent by the Centre, the government seemed to have panicked, and started acting.

The double-standards of the Sangh Parivar are evident in the way the Yeddyurappa government has responded. Even as churches were being ravaged by the Bajrang Dal, VHP and its affiliate organisations,Yeddyurappa declared that it is all "a conspiracy" against him. He denied vehemently reports that any of the sangh outfits are involved. The Karnataka chief of the Bajrang Dal, Mahendra Kumar, during a TV talk show, pompously declared that his organisation was responsible for the attacks. He even went on to assert that this will continue till Christians continued to convert Hindus.

Neither Home Minister VS Acharya nor Yeddyurappa, not the state police took note of it, until the Centre's "advisory" was received. He was arrested but managed to get bail within two days. His release has been delayed as another court in Koppa in Chikamagalur has issued a body warrant against him and he has to be produced on September 27.

In a move that is typical of governments facing brazen violations of constitutional rights, the BJP government instituted an enquiry by the State Corps of Detectives (COD), which is expected to give its report in two months. However, it was only after the Centre and various organisations and political parties applied pressure, he instituted a Court of Inquiry under a retired high court judge.

Meanwhile, the justification for the attacks against the Christians being touted by the BJP-RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal etc is that Christian sects have been indulging in forcible conversions of the Hindus. New Life, a Pentecostal sect, has been identified as the main culprit, though the pro-Sangh Hindu mobs have made no distinction while attacking Catholics as well as other sects' places of worship.

The entire pattern follows a long-term project. Karnataka has been the ‘southern lab' of the sangh ever since the late 1980s. Considering that the party was almost extinct in the 1989 assembly elections winning only four seats, it has managed to grab 110 seats and has formed a government on its own. The experiment has indeed been successful.

Ever since the BJP at the national level pushed the Ram temple movement, spewing venom against the Babri Masjid, Karnataka has responded to it more positively than most other south Indian states. The flag hoisting at Idgah Maidan in Hubli was one of the main issues which the parivar used to gather momentum. Once the Janata Dal government in 1994 resolved it, it turned its attention towards Bababudanagiri in Chikamagalur. Renaming this Sufi saint's all-religion worshippers' abode as ‘Dattatreya Peetha', the Hindutva brigade's affiliates like the Hindu Jagrana Vedike, Bajrang Dal and VHP, among others, upped the ante in the mid-1990s and later. Every year in October it has successfully managed to raise communal tensions on this issue. And already plans are afoot to raise the tempo over this issue from next month.

Meanwhile, as ‘secular' parties like the Congress and Janata Dal (S) in its various avatars, wished away these obvious signs of the state getting increasingly communalised, the BJP continued to catch the imagination of a cross section of people and its cadre strength grew exponentially. Even the gradual outflow of its leaders and cadres towards the BJP did not alert the Congress and JD about the impending danger. Stray political voices like that of Congress leader Jaffer Sherief (in the mid-90s) warning of increasing communalisation was not taken seriously. "The Congress has had no strategy to counter the systematic campaign of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP," a former MP remarks.

Hence, from just four seats in the assembly in 1989, the BJP grew ten-fold in 1994 winning 40 seats and got a further boost in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections winning six of the 28 seats, reducing Congress to the third place with just five seats. Even as these electoral gains were transparent to all political observers, the Hindutva affiliates started infiltrating systematically into semi-urban and rural areas through its various arms like the Hindu Jagrana Vedike, Sri Rama Sena, among others.
From moral vigilantism to luring unemployed youngsters, especially from the backward and dalit communities, these fronts have successfully grown and have now become the backbone of the BJP during the elections.

Soon after coming to power in May this year, the RSS got its act together - clearly, to control the government. It insisted and succeeded in appointing one of its men as either PA (private assistant) or OSD (officer on special duty) in every minister's office. Yeddyurappa, who has had his tiffs with the RSS, has accepted three "advisers" from the parivar to "guide" him in running the government. "No decisions or policy matters are taken without the consent of these three "advisers", who are however not very visible to the media or the public", a senior sangh leader admitted.

Yeddyurappa has taken up the task of appeasing those Hindu religious leaders who are known to be pronouncedly pro-sangh. But his decision to hand over the ancient temple in Gokarna, with myths relating it to the time of Ramayana, and which was under the Muzrai department, to Ramchandrapur Math, has backfired. Other Math heads including the Swami Visveswara Theertha of Udupi Pejawar Math, a strong Sangh Parivar ally, have opposed the move.

The attacks on Christians and moral vigilantism which includes attacking even Hindu girls and boys who are seen interacting with Muslim boys and girls (a typical Gujarat trend, reported extensively in and around Mangalore), are all aimed at creating an atmosphere to consolidate hardline Hindu votes for the Lok Sabha elections. The ‘threat' by the UPA government to invoke Article 355 is also going to be used as a weapon to paint the Congress and the Centre as ‘anti-Hindu'.

As the BJP-RSS-led Sangh Parivar goes on a rampage to turn Karnataka into another Gujarat, the Congress has remained a benign spectator. "We have had no plan of action to counter these forces. We have only been reactive when something like this (attack on Christians) happens," laments a senior Congress leader. As far as HD Deve Gowda and Sons Private Ltd of the Janata Dal (S) is concerned, their lamentations about the sangh's "fascist behaviour" sounds stunningly hollow. After all, he and his son, HD Kumaraswamy, allowed these forces to get a firm foothold by running a government with them for 20 months.

Indeed, it is evident that Karnataka, once considered one of the most peaceful and secular states in the country, has lost that distinction now. The BJP and its fronts have successfully penetrated institutions and poisoned the civil society. While the Congress and the Janata Dals (including Sharad Yadav's JD-U) have allowed this vicious drift to consolidate.