As Election Year Approaches, State Sees Deepening Communal Divide
Bengaluru: Karnataka is experiencing unprecedented communal polarization ahead of the next Assembly elections scheduled for May 2023. Analysts are concerned that this is the first time in 75 years of the post-independence period that such deep polarization occurs in the state known for its harmony. .
First it was the cow slaughter ban, then the anti-conversion bill, later the hijab line; then it was the murder of the Bajrang activist Dal Harsha followed by the proposal to introduce the Bhagavad Gita into the school curriculum; strict enforcement of the hijab verdict by banning Muslim female students wearing the hijab from entering examination halls; announcement on the celebration of Ugadi festival as “Dharmikadina” (religious day); ban on Muslim traders from Hindu religious fairs and temples for protesting the High Court verdict on wearing the hijab.
There have also been a slew of announcements of support from the ruling BJP on the measures, ostensibly for the polarization of Hindu majority votes in the state.
On the other hand, some minority community organizations and students have said that their holy book, the Quran, is more important to them than rules and guidelines. Congress leader Akram Khan had even said that if anyone tried to meddle with Islam, they would be cut to pieces. Students who refused to take exams without the hijab also said that religion is more important to them than education. A few of them said religion was as important as education to them.
Political thinker Basavaraj Sulibhavi told IANS that harmony is the heritage of the state of Karnataka. The revered poet Kuvempu described it as a peaceful garden of people of all religions. The religious harmony and composition between the religions of the state is remarkable.
Community polarization is not easy in Karnataka. The BJP never got a majority in the state. Although the state has witnessed communal clashes, people of different faiths share a strong bond.
The Bababudangiri pilgrimage centre, the Santa Shishunala Sharif and Guru Govind Bhat lineages are permanent testimonies of the integration of the “Sufi”, “Sharana”, “Natha” and “Aaroodha” currents. In the district of Gadag, a single trust manages a mosque, a temple and a church. In northern Karnataka, even though only two or three Muslim families live there, entire villages celebrate Moharram with fervor. Muslims come to Gadag Savatur Lingayat Math on Moharram and conduct namaz in the premises of the Math. All only get food there, Sulibhavi said.
“Minds today are filled with communal hatred for political gain. I don’t think this will challenge the basic structure of the harmonious fabric of the state,” he said.
The row over the hijab, which began with a small protest by six female students from Udupi Girl’s Pre-University College, is now being discussed internationally. This snowballed into a major crisis, leading to sharp divisions within the student community. Across the state, the minds of young students, especially those studying in junior colleges, are divided along community lines.
The killing of Bajrang Dal activist Harsha also made national headlines. Developments after the murder, 7 days curfew in Shivamogga and the government’s decision to provide compensation of Rs 25 lakh to Harsha’s family, a series of statements including the hoisting of the saffron flag over the Red Fort, again indicated a clear polarization.
Encouraged by the government’s alleged pro-Hindu stance, Hindutva forces were encouraged to issue statements to boycott any dealings with Muslim business establishments until they stopped eating beef. Banners and posters have popped up about it.
Opposition leader Siddaramaiah has said there is no room for hate politics in the state. “Here, there is only room for politics based on friendship and harmony. People will know “who is who” and will not support the community agenda pursued by the BJP.
Professor Mujaffar Assadi, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Chair of Political Science and Public Administration at Mysuru University, explained that Karnataka is changing rapidly but has not changed completely yet.
State politics has been dominated by caste identities like the Lingayats and Vokkaligas vying for power, but never by Hindutva. Minorities played a major role as the society was quite tolerant. “Ours has been a cohesive society. We never had any memories of partitioning the country, of looting or destruction. Karnataka’s history is different. Communal politics is only 30 years old here,” he said.
But the caste identity is now changed to Hindutva. At the Kalikamba temple in Kapu, where Muslim traders are banned, musicians from a family belonging to the minority community played music during a religious festival. In many temples, the morning and evening drumbeats are performed by Muslims. Interdependence is still strong, but at the same time the rhetoric of communal conflict has surfaced, he explained.
After World War II, memories of German and Japanese fascism slowly faded. In India too, the memories of partition are fading? “I hope the state will go through a willful amnesia regarding communal conflicts and rebuild the country and the state on new memories,” Assadi said.