The Congress has ruled for so long and at so many different levels that there is hardly a dirty trick out there that it hasn’t used. But creating a new religion overnight by government flat ten days before the election is announced?
That’s a new one, as far as I know.
Politics is a dirty game. We all know that. But has anybody ever gone this low?
This gambit from Sonia Gandhi’s party may actually have been a first in history. Indeed, I would request experts in political science to find out: has any ruling party anywhere on the planet ever done something like this? Sonia Gandhi’s attempt to divide the people puts the British to shame.
Here is a brief look at all the ways in which Congress tried to divide the people during its five-year rule in Karnataka.
(1) The new “doctrine of lapse”: The forcible takeover of Lingayat Mutts
The Congress didn’t start working on a “Lingayat policy” today. Back in 2014, the Congress government introduced the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Amendment Bill. It was a draconian bill under which the government could just take over any Hindu religious charity that it suspected of some form of malpractice or corruption at some level.
The Bill was obviously aimed at breaking the power of Lingayat Mutts in Karnataka. Also notice that only Hindu religious institutions were to be placed under this repressive act, reinforcing the status of Hindus as second class citizens in the state.
But the furore around the Bill was such that the government had to back down and withdraw it.
(2) Tipu Jayanti and the insult to Kempe Gowda
After Lingayats, it was the turn of the Vokkaligas to be kicked in the teeth by the Congress government. In order to pander to the Muslim voter, the Karnataka Government created a whole new thing called “Tipu Jayanti” and organized big celebrations around it.
Muslims didn’t ask for Tipu Jayanti to be celebrated. In fact, Islamic practice is generally suspicious of “Jayantis,” seeing the practice of celebrating birthdays as vaguely un-Islamic. Saudi Arabia, for instance, does not even celebrate the birthday of Prophet Mohammad.
But this was not about Islam. This was about the Great Divider of Indian politics trying to pamper Muslim egos and show Hindus their place. Not surprisingly, the government could not even find solid references for the precise birthday of Tipu Sultan. It wasn’t about birthdays: it was about votes.
And so a grand celebration of Tipu Jayanthi was held across Karnataka. At the official celebration in Vidhana Soudha, Mr Girish Karnad declared that he would rather have named Bengaluru’s Kempe Gowda International Airport after Tipu Sultan.
What’s the calculation here? You see in the Old Mysore Region from where the Congress draws the most seats, its main opponent is JDS, not BJP. The JDS’ vote base consists of Vokkaligas (essentially Gowdas) and Muslims. So what does a typical Congress intellectual say at the official celebration of Tipu Jayanti in Vidhana Soudha? He tries to make an issue out of comparing Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan with legendary Gowda ruler Kempe Gowda, the builder of Bengaluru.
Who gains if the Muslims break with the Vokkaligas of Old Mysore Region? Now you get it.
(3) Mahadayi waters and Goa as the enemy
In 2007, Sonia Gandhi announced at an election rally in Margao in Goa that she will not allow the waters of the Mahadayi river to be diverted from the state. At that time, Goa had a Congress government and Karnataka had a BJP supported government.
In 2017, it was the BJP that was in power in Goa and the Congress that was in power in Karnataka. What do you think happened?
Of course, the Congress found an enemy in the people of Goa. It is Modi, Parrikar and the BJP government in Goa that is responsible for North Karnataka farmers not getting water! How could Sonia ji not have realized this while speaking to Goans in 2007?
Recently, a reporter dared to confront Siddaramaiah with Sonia ji’s 2007 pledge to Goa. The Chief Minister had the most democratic-minded response ever to this question: “You don’t understand. Keep quiet.”
(4) “North Indian imports” and Hindi as the enemy
No, seriously, this is an elected Chief Minister tweeting from his official handle:
First of all, PM Modi is from Gujarat, which is not North India. But it is not like Siddaramaiah doesn’t know his geography. This tweet is a calculated attempt to spread casual xenophobia: a two-nation theory; one nation north of the Vindhyas and one south of the Vindhyas.
And so it was that Siddaramaiah discovered the sudden need for a new Karnataka state flag. After almost sixty years of India being ruled by a Hindi speaking Dynasty from the extreme north (Kashmir), it is during the term of a Gujarati Prime Minister that Congress Party finally discovers how much historical injustice has been done to the South of India. To help Siddaramaiah’s divisive campaign along, the intellectual ecosystem activates and starts feeding the public articles about how the South loses money for every rupee of tax it sends to the Center and how the Northern states get subsidized.
Someone tell Siddaramaiah that his party’s President is from Uttar Pradesh and represents Amethi in Parliament. That family pocket borough is one of the most backward places in the country. Now if taxes from Karnataka are being “diverted” to make up for the development deficit in a place like Amethi, whose fault is that?
Someone tell Siddaramaiah that India has had only one full term PM from the South : P V Narasimha Rao. He was from the Congress. But he did not belong to the Dynasty. So when he passed away, the Congress government in 2004 would not even provide flowers for his dead body. His mortal remains were packed off from Delhi and sent to Hyderabad. He had lived in Delhi for 30 years. But there was no place for him there. If there was ever a moment when the South was humiliated, this was it.
(5) The Lingayats as a separate religion
Remember how I pointed out earlier in the article that in 2014 the Congress tried to crush the Lingayat Mutts. That didn’t work. So Sonia Gandhi’s party unfolded Plan B. This time the plan is to give Lingayats the status of a new religion, a minority, thus breaking them away from the Hindu body. The same Lingayat run institutions that Siddaramaiah tried to crush in 2014 are to be redesignated as “minority institutions,” freeing them from the paws of RTE and a host of other regulatory regimes that apply only to Hindus.
This led to the spectacle of a government in a secular country creating a new religion by fiat ten days before the election was announced. A new low for democracy anywhere.
Campaigning for the Karnataka elections ended yesterday. Thankfully. Who knows what else the Congress would have had up its sleeve? Offering another partition of India? They did it once and reaped a rich harvest for sixty years. Who knows what they are capable of?
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.