On 3 May 2018, all major Indian channels highlighted the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the stage in Bellary with Gali Somashekhara Reddy, who is the BJP candidate from the area. Known as the ‘Reddy Brothers’, Somashekara and his two siblings Karunakara (also a BJP candidate) and Janardhana (who is actively campaigning for the BJP) are regarded as some of the most corrupt persons in India. It is common knowledge that all three have amassed an incredible amount of wealth (estimated to be at least 35,000crores) through largescale illegal and rapacious mining across the iron-ore-rich district of Bellary. All three brothers were lawmakers and Ministers when the BJP ruled Karnataka some time ago.
The PM thus sent an unequivocal message to all: the BJP will do almost anything to win the battle for the soul of Karnataka in the forthcoming elections, on 12 May. It was never in doubt that both the PM and the BJP are highly corrupt, putting to shade any individual or party whom they were accusing of. However, as a smokescreen, in the run up to elections in certain States, they cleverly played the ‘development’ card. This time however, all caution has been thrown to the wind- neither development nor environmental concerns matter any longer. The writ of the Reddy brothers with their money and muscle runs large in certain areas of Karnataka. Besides, choosing the scam tainted 75-year old Lingayat leader B.S. Yeddyurappa as the chief ministerial candidate of the party only proves, that there is no one to rival the BJP in corruption and in looting the country.
In Karnataka, the BJP-supported right wing elements are doing all they can to destroy the sanctity and the rights guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution. The State for years has been the bastion of the Congress and other secular parties, but in June 2008, the party won the State elections. There has been a downslide ever since. In September 2008, Christians and church institutions were attacked in Mangalore and other places across the State (cfr. boxes on ‘Open Letter’). Over the years, the BJP (even as opposition) has also played their communal agenda to the hilt, effectively dividing the people on religious and caste lines.
Sanjay Patil, a BJP legislator standing for elections from North Karnataka, amplified this agenda recently when he vociferously proclaimed, “ This election is very important. It is not about roads, drinking water or gutters. This election is about Hindus and Muslims. Those who want to build the Babri Masjid, those who want to celebrate Tipu Jayanti, let them vote for the Congress. Those among you who want Shivaji Maharaj, those who want Sambhaji Maharaj, those who want to pray at a Lakshmi temple, you must vote for the BJP .”
In the run-up to the elections, it was common knowledge that the right-wing elements were buying up people from different sections of society, just to split the votes of the other parties. The ‘demonetization’ heist foisted by them on the nation provided them and their crony capitalists a windfall. Therefore, they do in fact have plenty of ‘black money’ to buy up unsuspecting people and to continue with their divide-and-rule strategy. A young ambitious Catholic doctor from Mangalore, who felt that the Congress had no time to ‘listen’ to him – very candidly said recently that the BJP is offering him a ‘ticket’ in the next elections. Of course, they will do so! They will also make sure that this ‘Christian’ will be made to stand from a constituency from where he is bound to lose; but would help in dividing the votes.
Freedom of speech and expression, like in other parts of the country, has taken a severe beating in Karnataka too. The fascist forces have left no stone unturned to throttle anybody who takes a stand for justice and truth or for that, matter thinks differently. On 30 August 2015, eminent intellectual Prof. M. M. Kalburgi was brutally murdered in Dharwad. On 5 September 2017, journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down. Both Kalburgi and Lankesh were highly critical of the Sangh Parivar.
In 2015, Professor B.P. Mahesh Chandra Guru, dalit intellectual (also a professor of journalism) offered an interpretation of the Ramayana, in which he said Ram was guilty of misogyny when he banished pregnant Sita to live alone in a forest. He used the Kannada word ' alemari' to describe Ram. Guru says, "I meant he was 'nomadic' or 'wandering’”. Eighteen months later, Guru spent eight days in a Mysore jail after some functionary (who was not present at the lecture) of a Hindutva group ‘Karunawu Sarvodaya Sene’, took offence at Guru's speech and filed a police complaint, claiming that his Hindu religious sentiments were hurt, since Guru called Ram a "loafer". At first, Guru’s bail plea was rejected and he was released only after he spent over a week in prison. Today Guru continues speaking out vehemently against those forces who trample ‘freedom of speech and expression’ and destroy the intellectual fibre of the country.
Mangalore will never forget 24 January 2009 when a group of goons belonging to another extremist outfit the ‘Sri Ram Sene’ barged into a pub, beat up young women and men, screaming at them for having “loose morals”. The group claimed that the women were violating traditional Indian values. Two women were hospitalized for the injuries they sustained. However, after more than nine years, a lower court in Karnataka on 13 March acquitted twenty- six of the attackers including the founder of the group, Pramod Muthalik for ‘want of evidence’. This was indeed a travesty of justice. There is ample amount of video evidence to show how blatantly the goons had carried out the attack. Fortunately, a group of concerned citizens, ‘the Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development’ has launched a massive campaign demanding that the state government appeal the ruling to ensure that the attackers are suitably punished and the cause of justice is served.
The pub attack of 2009 provoked a nationwide stir with some enterprising individuals and women’s groups launching the ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign; it was a highly ingenuous protest against moral policing in Karnataka and elsewhere; thousands of pink undergarments from all over the country were dispatched to Muthalik, the Ram Sene chief. This campaign also received plenty of international coverage.
With due patronage received from the BJP/RSS combine, the Sene over the years has been taking law and order into their own hands, and pretending to be the sole custodian of ‘Hindu Culture’ They have made ‘love jihad’ their main objective, attacking any couple in love who belong to different religions. In 2012, a group of them attacked a party of youngsters enjoying inside a private guesthouse in Mangalore and manhandled them, accusing them of indecency and violating Indian culture, all this, while mishandling and reportedly molesting the women themselves.
More recently, in June 2017, the Sene made its opposition to an iftar hosted inside the ancient Udupi Sri Krishna temple by the head of the Pejawar Mutt, Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji, and called for a statewide protest against it. The outfit couldn’t swallow the bitter pill that at a time when their ilk the Hindutva forces were galvanizing themselves across the country and cow vigilantes were making headlines nearly every month, the Swamiji had invited both Hindus and Muslims to promote communal harmony.
The elections in Karnataka is no longer about an impartial, objective look at this or that national political party. It is about a more subjective and passionate look, at the future of India. When Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde said on 25 December 2017, in Bangalore, “we are here to change the Constitution”- only a very few would have thought that he was talking through his hat. A victory for the BJP in Karnataka would be a significant step closer towards the realization of this one objective. It is true that on several other points there might be little to choose from the two major parties. However, on the point of the Constitution, on the diversity of the country and on the pluralistic, secular fabric of the country, there can be very little doubt .
A powerful Kannada video (with English subtitles) has already gone viral! The message is loud and clear “ what we eat ; what we wear; whom we love; what we say: Is our right!” It is a video worth watching and sharing. The results of the Karnataka elections will not only impact the psyche of the country but will also define the India of tomorrow; besides, it will have far-reaching consequences for the General Elections of 2019. Karnataka today is modern day Kurukshetra: it is the battleground for the soul of India!
4 May 2018
*(Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 07th May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 19)