Responding to the massive victory of the Congress party in the Karnataka Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi said, “Shops of hatred are closed and the market of love is opened”. People of Karnataka rejected decisively a culture of hate cultivated by the BJP-RSS combine by electing 135 Congress MLAs out of 244 with a vote share of 43.88%. The new government has to prove that the environment of hate created by the Hindutva organizations is replaced with love and harmony among the followers of different religions, cultures and languages. This is a great challenge for the new government along with providing a corruption-free administration.
Indeed, May 13, 2023 was one of the happiest days for all those who love India because a divisive, exclusive, hateful, communal and violent ideology was defeated by the people of Karnataka, the gateway of the BJP to the Southern states of India. Many people rejoice on the victory of the Congress party because the ideology of RSS-BJP combine is diametrically opposed to the core values of the Constitution, the very foundation of democratic India. For the time being, this ideology as the basis of governance is rejected by the people.
The BJP captured power in Karnataka through “Operation Lotus'', an immoral way of throwing out a government through defections. The Bharatiya Janata Party that claims to be a party with difference has actually proved to be adept in the immoral political game of horse trading. It has done it in states like Goa, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. If the Congress had won with wafer-thin majority in Karnataka, the BJP would have attempted yet another ‘Operation Lotus’ there. But the people did not give an opportunity to the party for horse-trading.
Ever since Basavaraj Bommai became the chief minister, the BJP government initiated a series of policy decisions to target the minorities and create hatred against the minorities in the majority community. Karnataka became a Hindutva laboratory in south India. It opened many hate shops like a stringent law against cow slaughter, a draconian anti-conversion law and ban of hijab in educational institutions. As Bommai was not from the RSS background but a turncoat from Janata Dal Secular, he was trying to prove his loyalty to the Hindutva ideology through his anti-minority bashing and policies. It was reported in a few post-election analyses that unlike Bommai, Yeddyurappa did not create enmity between Hindus and the minorities.
The main objective of amending anti-cow slaughter law in 2021, making it stringent, was to deprive the Muslim community of its livelihood, as many of them are involved in meat and leather business, as well as to give an opportunity to the Hindutva organizations to attack Muslims who are involved in animal trade. Unlike Karnataka's 1964 Act which allowed slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffaloes, the new law passed by the Bommai government in 2021 bans the slaughter of "cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock of all ages [completely], and he or she buffalo below the age of thirteen years."
According to media reports, since the new law came into effect, over 500 cases were registered under it in 2021.Transporting cattle, even for legitimate purposes, became a risk due to self-proclaimed ‘cow-protectors’. For example, in March 2021, two Muslim drivers (Abdul Rehman and Mohammed Mustafa) from Belthangady in Dakshina Kannada district were attacked by 25 men, including members of the Bajrang Dal, even though their vehicle was empty. Karnataka may be the only South Indian state where lynching by cow vigilantes was experimented.
Another diabolic instrument used by the Bommai government to polarize Hindu votes and harass Christians is the draconian anti-conversion law. According to the new law, the punishment includes imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of Rs. 25,000. But in the case of minors, women, SC/ST, the offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than Rs. 50,000. The law also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to Rs. 5 lakhs as compensation to those who were made to convert.
As in the case of the anti-conversion laws passed by other BJP-ruled states, reconversion to the original religion of a person does not come under the purview of this law. The Sangh Parivar Organizations term it Ghar Wapsi and organize Ghar Wapsi programmes in different parts of India, especially in the BJP ruled states.
Besides stringent punishments, the worst part of the law is the provision for making complaints. Complaints of conversions can be filed by family members of a person who is getting converted, or any other person who is related to the person who is getting converted, or any person associated with the person getting converted. In other words, any ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ can make a complaint of conversion against a person. The purpose of this provision is to give an easy handle to the Hindutva organizations to file false complaints against Christians and Christian organizations as well as to attack them. Data collected by Christian organizations prove that the law facilitated attacks on Christians.
According to a fact-finding report released on December 6, 2021, Karnataka was ranked third among states with the highest number of attacks on the members of the Christian community and their places of worship. The report was jointly prepared by the United Christian Forum, Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and United Against Hate. The report also revealed that Karnataka recorded the highest incidents among the states in south India.
Another sinister measure adopted by the Bommai government was the decision to scrap the 4% quota for OBC Muslims in government jobs and education just one month before the elections. The 4% OBC Muslim quota is divided between the Vokkaligas and Lingayats. Muslims eligible for quota have been categorized under economically weaker sections. Election results show that this strategy did not pay any electoral dividend to the BJP, as the two communities did not favour the BJP in the election.
Along with the divisive measures in the form of laws and policies implemented by the Bommai government, the belligerent Hindutva organizations were given a free hand to indulge in spreading hatred and violence against the minorities. They had issued a call for a boycott of halal meat normally prepared by Muslims and used by them and other communities. Worst of all, an appeal was issued to drive out Muslims from all social and economic activities, a kind of socio-economic boycott. These organizations manufactured a false narrative that Tipu Sultan was not killed by the Britishers while fighting against them but was assassinated by two Vokkaligas, Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda. The purpose of this nefarious narrative was to create a wedge between Muslims and Vokkaligas.
The last phase of electioneering in Karnataka saw vitriolic use of religion and hatred towards Muslim community by the BJP, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Congress party has included in its manifesto a proposal to ban Bajrang Dal and Popular Front of India. The BJP and the Prime Minister distorted it as banning the devotees of Bajrang Bali (Lord Hanuman). Modi said that the Congress party “had earlier locked up Lord Ram and now it wanted to lock up those who chant Jai Bajrang Bali”. He recited the religious slogan, ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ while campaigning and asked people to vote for his party by raising the same slogan. “Please cast your vote and do not forget to chant Jai Bajrang Bali when you exercise your franchise,” said Modi in an election meeting. It was clearly in violation of the model code of conduct and the Representation of People’s Act which prohibits political parties and their leaders from asking for votes in the name of religion.
The Prime Minister during his speeches made use of the propaganda movie, ‘The Kerala Story’. Referring to the movie, Modi said, “In the changing times, the nature of terrorism is also changing… The sound of bombs, rifles, and pistols could be heard [in one kind of terrorism]. But the terrorism of a new type, which undermines society from within, makes no sound. The Kerala Story is a film based on such a conspiracy in Kerala….See the bad luck of the country, the Congress is seen hand in glove with this terrorism. It is, from the back door, doing politics and dealing with people with such a terrorist mindset.”
The BJP under the leadership of Bommai adopted a strategy of targeting the Muslim and Christian communities mainly to divert people’s attention from its incompetence, failures and rampant corruption. The Congress in its election campaign, focused on the large-scale corruption of the BJP government in Karnataka under the slogan “40% Commission Government” and that struck a chord with the voters.
The issue of corruption in government departments was already exposed in a letter that a state-wide association of contractors had sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging that ministers routinely demanded "40% commission" in every government-funded project. One such contractor, who happened to be a BJP-RSS supporter, ended his own life. In his suicide note, he blamed a senior BJP minister for harassing him with demands for bribe. If the people perceive that the state government is corrupt, then the Prime Minister, however popular and charismatic he is, will not be able to garner votes for his party. This was proved in Karnataka, as Modi addressed 19 rallies and led six road shows during the electioneering in the State.
The people of Karnataka have given a fitting response to the hatred and violence against the minorities promoted and supported by the BJP government. S N Sahu in an article in The Wire on May, 16, 2023 made a reference to a speech delivered by Mahatma Gandhi at a Citizens’ Meeting in Bangalore on August 28, 1927. He said, “You have no Hindu-Muslim quarrels. You are unaffected by the misdoings in the North.” According to Sahu, what the Hindutva organisations did in Karnataka to polarise society is contrary to the syncretic and pluralistic ethos of the state, which the BJP wanted to alter for electoral purposes. The Congress manifesto in contrast invoked the ideal of ‘Sarva Janangada Shanthiya Thota’ (Peaceful Garden of all communities), affirming Gandhi’s vision.
The Christian leaders, who support the BJP’s Hindutva ideology and claim falsely that Christians are safe and secure under the Modi regime, can learn a great lesson from the people of Karnataka -- don’t meddle with the core values of religious harmony and unity in diversity through deceit and spreading falsehood; don’t use divisive strategies as a cover up for rampant corruption and internal decay.