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HomeSpecialsInterviewsOpIndia talks to Karnataka minister Dr Ashwath Narayan: Ganesh Chaturti vs Hijab, Veer Savarkar...

OpIndia talks to Karnataka minister Dr Ashwath Narayan: Ganesh Chaturti vs Hijab, Veer Savarkar controversy, Tipu Sultan, Praveen Nettaru, floods and more

"I, as a proud member of the BJP, do not see anything wrong with Ganesh Chaturthi in schools. It is an extension of our civilizational state of mind, whereas, cultures that have historically used the sword to force people into religious compliance do not deserve space in our educational institutions", said the Minister.

Karnataka has been in the news for the past few months for a host of reasons. From the Hijab row to cracking down on Islamists and even political issues like the controversy surrounding Veer Savarkar and the Lingayat issue. With assembly elections set to be held in the state in 2023, the political environment is just about heating up., in a freewheeling conversation with Dr Ashwath Narayan, Minister for Higher Education, IT-BT, Science and Technology, Skill Development and Livelihood, Government of Karnataka, attempts a snapshot of the pre-election mood in Karnataka and how the BJP’s first government in the south is faring on the ground. 

Here are excerpts from the interaction.

Q: The Hijab row has taken Karnataka by storm ever since it erupted. How is the government dealing with it?

A: The hijab row is nothing but politics sponsored by an intellectually-impoverished Opposition and bears no connection whatsoever with the idea of education. In fact, the Karnataka High Court verdict is very clear that such differentiations among children based on religion should not exist and education should be the leveller and primary focus. The school uniform has been in vogue for decades, all over the world. Why should there suddenly be wedges created between students? Is this real secularism? 

Q: Now the Supreme court is seized of the matter. Any thoughts on the future course of action?

A: We will follow whatever the Supreme Court says, as a responsible government. But even the court has castigated the students for ‘forum shopping’. The fact that their lawyer is a high-end practitioner and a former Congressman itself shows that vested interests are behind this agenda. Can students of a school afford such hot-shot lawyers? There’s something that does not add up here. 

Q: Are radical Islamist organisations driving this agenda? How do you view the criticism of the Leftists against this ‘secularization of education?

A: Radical Islamists have for long been trying to bleed India with a thousand cuts. This is proved by their Ghazwa-e-Hind agenda, which is now common knowledge. I want to ask these people one question – What is secularism, in their definition? I understand it to mean respect for all faiths and equal treatment for all. What we are seeing here is the methodical imposition of one faith and ideology onto the whole nation through cleverly camouflaged methods that appear democratic. 

Their real aim is to thrust upon a peaceful India a totalitarian philosophy without any scope for diversity or culture. We are not a monochromatic nation like Pakistan. We are a civilizational state and are proud of it. And to the communists, I would like to say, please refer to the dictionary definition of the word ‘commune’. It will then be clear that it is they who are communal, by wanting to paint India in just one colour and supporting religious fundamentalists. Bharat is secular through the power of its diversity – not only of its peoples, but of its states, cuisines, and Gods as well. 

Q: Recently, Islamist organisations started demanding that religious studies be introduced in schools and Hijab be allowed as an official dress after the Primary Education Minister said that Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations would be allowed in schools. What’s your take on this matter?

A: First of all, let us be clear on who we are, as a people. We do not go around exploding markets and forcing others to accept our views with the sword in hand. This may be par for the course in Pakistan, but not here in India. We are a peaceful people keen on individual, collective and national growth. Our ideas are progressive and do not infringe on the personal safety or welfare of the ‘other’. Therefore, I, as a proud member of the BJP, do not see anything wrong with Ganesh Chaturthi in schools. It is an extension of our civilizational state of mind, whereas, cultures that have historically used the sword to force people into religious compliance do not deserve space in our educational institutions. It is as simple, if not constitutional, as that. 

Q: Coming to the Veer Savarkar controversy, Congress seems especially inimical to the adoption or promotion of Savarkar as a freedom icon. Your thoughts?

A: Congress wants the country to celebrate only its icons of the past. They are scared of people coming to know of the contributions of others. It is apprehensive of losing political relevance if other figures also get their pride of place. And let me tell you, only Veer Savarkar knew the pains of suffering in Kaalapani or the Andaman jail. Does Siddaramaiah know of such discomfort? Siddaramaiah only knows how to eat a full meal of meat and then visit a temple in sheer disrespect. 

Q: The Opposition is criticising the police for ‘highhandedness’ in the Veer Savarkar matter. Is that a legitimate viewpoint?

A: If I take pride in a particular person, it is my privilege. They take pride in Tipu Sultan, who was a ruthless killer. Is that fine? Are we supposed to elevate Tipu to the status of a demigod? Will even the Islamists be okay with that, given that we are overtly sensitive about the supremacy of God? Does the Congress want to elevate Tipu Sultan because he subjugated Hindus? Siddaramaiah should reflect upon his name. Else, he is free to call himself Sultanayyah! It will clearly draw the battle lines.

Q: Please explain the politics surrounding the Lingayat issue. Are Veerashaivas and Lingayats different, or is there a conspiracy against the community?

A: There is no difference between the Lingayats and Veerashaivas. Both are worshippers of Shiva and Basavanna, who is an incarnation of Nandishwara. The attempt to divide the community is a plan by the Congress party to destroy Hinduism and unite the minorities. Is Congress harping on the differences between Sunnis and Shias? Or, for that matter between Muslims and Christians? For them, ‘minority unity’ and ‘majority disunity’ is the goal. That’s their master key to power and public office. Siddaramaiah should remember that he lost the last elections because of such chicanery. He has even ‘regretted’ his divisive agenda, in a meeting with a seer, as per recent news reports. Such theatrics will not work. People are intelligent. 

Q: What do you make of Rahul Gandhi’s recent ‘deekshe’ at a Lingayat mutt? Is it genuine or just optics? 

A: The world knows Mr Rahul Gandhi as “Election Hindu”. He, on the advice of his advisors, proves that point again and again. I welcome it, it’s entertaining.

If Rahul Gandhi is so universal, then he should speak the language of Swami Vivekananda, who wrote reams about his idea of a Universal religion. But that does not seem the case. I want to ask Shri ‘Janeudhari’ whether he does his Sandhya Vandana regularly. We can thereafter come to ‘linga deekshe’.

Q: Much heat has been generated after the murder of Hindutva activist Praveen Nettaru. The BJP too has drawn heavy flak for perceived apathy in the protection of its foot soldiers. What’s your reading of the situation? 

A: We are firm and united in our ideology. I seriously condemn those who convert an ideological fight into a blood fight. All karyakartas including me have stood in solidarity with Praveen and his family. His family’s pain is my pain, their grief is my grief.

Q: The Karnataka government is in the process of drafting the State Public Higher Education Institutions Bill. What are its chief aims and why is it being instituted?

A: In brief, the Bill aims to professionalise education in the state by giving institutions of higher learning complete autonomy in line with their peers in advanced nations. The role of politicians in educational administration will be eliminated and a Board comprising persons of eminence will be in place to guide these institutions. In short, we want an IIT-IIM-style of professional freedom for our institutions so they can serve the purpose for which they were originally created. 

Q: With Karnataka already excelling globally in the field of software, what are your government’s further plans in matters of development? 

A: The Prime Minister recently spoke of the work-from-home and hybrid concepts, and they being the future of work. Taking this forward, our government is looking at a decentralized model of development, where tier-2 and tier-3 cities will be developed to accommodate more professionals so the pressure on Bengaluru may be eased. This decentralization will also apply to the field of education, where every zilla will have an educational institute of excellence and admit local students who will study local problems and come up with local solutions. It is in line with Modi ji’s ‘Vocal for Local’ vision. 

Q: What are the party’s prospects in the 2023 elections? You are a senior leader in the party – what role do you see for yourself in this election?

A: Our mission is 150+ seats in the Karnataka Assembly. We have done path-breaking development work in the state since we came back to power. We will go to the people of Karnataka with a positive development plank and I’m sure of a better victory this time. I’m at the party’s disposal and will do whatever the party tasks me with.

Q: The BJP has been traditionally weak in the Old Mysuru Region. How is a comfortable victory possible without adequate representation from that region?

I come from that region. The people there are strongly rooted in tradition and culture, and they are progressive in thinking as well. This is exactly what the BJP stands for and this election results will surprise all poll pundits.

Q: Lastly, there is a lot of criticism about the way the rains were handled in Bangalore, given that several parts saw life coming to a standstill due to water logging. What would you say about that?

A: Despite what the media would have us all believe, not all parts of Bengaluru were affected by waterlogging; most of the waterlogging has happened in lake beds where there has been rampant encroachment. However, we understand the concerns and anguish of our citizenry and our friends and partners in corporates and industry as well. This situation doesn’t just harm the bottom lines, it harms our state’s economy. We are in discussion with industry heads and decision makers across Namma Bengaluru, along with representatives across the board, from the Chief Secretary of the State Government of Karnataka to the Commissioner of the BBMP, the Commissioner of Police, and representatives from the DULT, BWSSB, BMRCL. Bengaluru is resilient and has the tenacity to overcome temporary setbacks and issues. We have received a few suggestions from the ORRCA representatives & industry experts, and these are being evaluated, as well. In a time of crisis, it is easy to criticise, it is important to focus, and above all, being able to focus on the task at hand, collaborate across, bring people together, and resolve the situation, is the reason this government was elected by the people.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Nupur J Sharma
Nupur J Sharma
Editor-in-Chief, OpIndia.

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