Karnataka polls: Siddaramaiah's 'Periyar' trick tough nut to crack for BJP as RSS tries to hoist saffron flag in state

Since the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the dates for Karnataka assembly elections, BJP president Amit Shah, perhaps, was first among the saffron party top guns to feel the heat of homegrown identity politics played out in the state by Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Shah chose to launch his two-day election campaign in Karnataka from Siddaganga Mutt in Tumkur with blessings from Lingayats' spiritual icon Shivakumara Swami. He opened his campaign rhetoric with a high-pitched charge on Siddaramaiah for "engineering" a split in majority Hinduism in the name of according minority status to Lingayats. He was seen straining hard to ensure consolidation of BJP’s Lingayat vote bank, key to his party’s victory in the state, and thereby extending its footprints into the South.

While the Sangh Parivar is sparing no efforts in attempt to hoist the saffron flag in Karnataka, what they are dealing with in form of rival Siddaramaiah's politics draws a parallel with EV Ramasamy aka Periyar's self-respect movement against caste structures and imposition of Hindi in the Tamil Nadu of 1920s. This challenge to structures of Brahmanism by appeasing the non-upper caste population was a tough nut to crack back during Periyar's time, and remains so for the Sangh.

Siddaramaiah, on the other hand, has sent a request to the Centre to grant Karnataka its own flag, a move expected to peddle the Kannadiga pride in his favour.

A socialist by conviction, Siddaramaiah, in turn, is trying hard to counter BJP by playing up sub-nationalism to the hilt. He used the Lingayat faith, which has deep roots in the teachings of 12th Century reformer Basavanna, as an antithesis to BJP’s Hindutva agenda founded on the Varnasrama dharma that seeks to place Brahmins at the highest order.

Periyar's life and vision were dedicated to eradication of Manuvaad by inspiring subaltern sections to assert their identity and self-respect against social oppression by upper castes based on the scriptures of Manusmriti, which treat Brahmins superior in the caste system by virtue of their birth. Periyar's social reform focused on community lunches involving people from the oppressed castes as an antithesis to caste system.

 Karnataka polls: Siddaramaiahs Periyar trick tough nut to crack for BJP as RSS tries to hoist saffron flag in state

File image of Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

Siddharamaiah claims to be trying to essay Periyar by striving to accord a separate identity detached from Hindu religion for Lingayats, who trace their roots to a similar social reform movement spearheaded by Basavanna in 12th century AD. Hailing from the backward shepherd Kuruba community, Siddaramaiah has aroused Kannada pride by launching a Kannada flag and leading a campaign against use of Hindi signboards in metro stations of Bengaluru and at Central government offices in a conscious bid to counter BJP’s Hindi-Hindu narrative.

Siddaramaiah aims to make way for assertion of identity by backward classes in his favour, just as Periyar did with his Dravidian movement, which happens to be the origin of DMK. A split resulted in AIADMK in the 1970s. By doing so, Siddu intends to kill two birds with one stone — rout out BJP from Karnataka and insulate his government from anti-incumbency.

With former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, a popular leader from the Lingayat community, back in its fold this time, BJP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the abortive experiment of 2013 is not repeated. The party suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Congress ending with only 19.06 percent votes in 2013, 4 percent less than votes polled by Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal (Secular).

It happened so as Yeddyurappa, the man who helped Karnataka be the gateway to South for BJP in 2008, deserted the party during 2013 elections.

Adinarayana, a Bangalore-based journalist, says that Lingayats are a decisive force in at least 100 assembly segments with around 17 percent electorate, mostly in the Mumbai-Karnataka region.
“The extent of split Siddaramaiah’s minority card causes in the community will be critical before one reads into the fortunes of major players,” he adds.

Mutts run by almost each and every community and their heads hold sway over public life. By passing a resolution in the State Assembly favouring a minority religion status for Lingayats, Siddaramaiah has attempted to wean some sections away from the fold of BJP’s CM candidate Yeddyurappa. This has become a point to ponder for BJP’s top brass, it is known.

Political analyst S A Hemanthakumar takes a jibe at Siddaramaiah for “stooping down to divide communities for his own political survival”. Siddaramaiah projected himself as the mascot of Muslim minorities by celebrating Tipu Sultan jayanti as state festival, but he ignored unsung Kannadiga heroes like Rani Abbakka Devi of the erstwhile Ullal princely state, who was acclaimed as the country’s first freedom fighter against the Portuguese aggression. Field Marshal Kodandera M Cariappa, the first Indian commander-in-chief of the India Army, and General Kodandera Subayya Thimayya — both hailing from Kodagu district’s Madikeri and heroes of Indo-Pak and Indo-Sino wars, respectively — were also ignored, he points out.

Karnataka is different in terms of languages spoken across the spectrum. Although Kannada was recognised as the official language, it sadly fails to have a pan-Karnataka presence. The state was carved out technically on linguistic basis in 1956 despite the assortment of regions with a mixed basket of languages. Urdu is a dominant language in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, which was part of the erstwhile Nizam’s Hyderabad state. Similarly, Urdu was the principal language in the old Mysore state under Tipu Sultan. Marathi is dominant in the Mumbai-Karnataka region, and Tamil and Malayalam are main languages in the areas bordering Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Tulu and Kodava languages are also two other prominent assets of the coastal Karnataka region and Kodagu region, respectively.

R Manivannan, former HoD of Political Science at Madras University, says Periyar is a matchless social reformer who cannot be compared with any politician, more so Siddharamaiah. While Periyar fought against the ruling establishment, the Congress CM is labeling himself as a "Periyar-like reformer" only to retain power. "That’s the difference," says Manivannan.

Kancha Ilaiah, a Hyderabad-based writer and scholar in Dravidian culture, sees a common thread that runs between the movement headed by Siddaramaiah and the identity struggles being waged elsewhere in the southern states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. BJP and the Parivar groups are foraying into the South with their agenda of aggressive Aryan hegemony over native cultures, beliefs and identities. So, there is a need for integrating the identity struggles across the south Indian spectrum so as to face the onslaught, Ilaiah argues. He advocates replacement of Hindi with English in all government schools in the South, as Hindi is not a native language, but imposed from the North.

On a lighter vein, Patibandla Srikanth, a Political Science scholar from Karnataka University, says Siddaramaiah's crusade for Kannada pride by capitalising on Kannada language seems insignificant in a scenario where “anyone can get in and get out of Karnataka without having to know or speak Kannada”.

The author is a Vijayawada-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: Apr 04, 2018 15:44:24 IST