Will Tipu Sultan bail out the BJP?

Although it appears to be on the backfoot in Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party is convinced that its communal campaign will pay dividend in the Assembly election expected in April-May

Getty Images
Getty Images

Naheed Ataulla

The past few years in Karnataka has witnessed a sustained communal campaign. The ban on hijabs in schools made international headlines. An anti-conversion bill was passed. Muslim traders were debarred from selling wares at Hindu festivals. Hindus were urged not to buy even fruits from Muslims. People visiting temples were advised to hire taxis from only vegetarians. Classrooms were painted saffron. Riots rocked Hubballi for which the BJP government blamed the previous government. In a viral video a Muslim university student was seen objecting to a teacher who linked him to a Pakistani terrorist.

It came as no surprise, therefore, when Home Minister Amit Shah, who has visited Karnataka five times in the last two months, declared at a political rally that a vote for the Congress or JD (S) would be a vote for people who ‘believe in Tipu Sultan, a traitor’. The stark choice was between PM Narendra Modi, who ‘builds temples’ and those who glorify Tipu Sultan, who destroyed them. As usual, Shah was mixing official business and meetings with his political engagements—something that he can do with impunity till the election is announced and the ‘model code of conduct’ come into force.

Tipu Sultan is of course something of an obsession with state BJP leaders. The assembly election this time, scheduled to be held in April-May, 2023, will be between Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (RSS ideologue) and Tipu Sultan, (18th century Mysuru warrior who died fighting the British) declared Karnataka BJP president and MP Naleen Kumar Kateel in Shivamogga. Don’t raise petty issues like roads and sewage, he exhorted people in Mangaluru. Love-jihad was far more serious, he held.

Former chief minister and Congress leader Siddarmaiah is mocked by BJP leaders and party MLA CT Ravi, named him Siddaramullah Khan. BJP minister CN Ashwath Narayana was forced to express his regret when his public statement that Siddaramaih should be ‘finished off’ like Tipu created a public furore. “Do you want Tipu or Savarkar? What did Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda do? You should finish him (Siddaramaiah) like they did,” he said. BJP has lately taken to claiming that the two Vokkaliga chieftains were involved in killing Tipu Sultan.

As part of this campaign, the BJP state government announced construction of a Ram temple’ at Ramanagara, where the blockbuster movie Sholay was shot, as a budget proposal for 2023-24. BJP’s ‘Ayodhya of the South’ Ramanagara, a Vokkaliga dominated district, is the home district of   State Congress president D K Shivakumar and is represented by former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy.

Theatre personality and Karnataka Aam Aadmi Party Working President, Zafer Mohiuddin, sees a degree of desperation in the BJP. “Why is BJP living in the past, digging up 400-years-old history and connect it to the present context?  The desperation has extended beyond politics, says Mohiuddin, referring to the controversial play Tipu Nija Kanasagalu (Tipu's real dreams), a play written and directed by Mysuru Rangayana director, Addanda C Cariappa. A temporary ban was obtained from a court by petitioners who alleged that the play had distorted history and facts.

Linguist and cultural activist Ganesh Devy says he is aghast at the brazen hate speech, communal innuendos and incitement. They can go unpunished only in fascist states because of the inaction of bodies meant to take cognisance of such acts and speech.  What has Karnataka to do with Savarkar, he wonders. “It intrigues me and defeats my understanding. Depicting Indian Muslims as traitors betrays ignorance of  the history of Independence,'' he says, pointing out that Tipu Sultan, who fought against the East India Company and the British does belong to Karnataka, unlike Savarkar. 

“The BJP government in the state has little to show as its achievements and will have to rely upon Modi's charisma and polarisation of votes,'' states A Narayana, Professor at the School of Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University.

Are voters influenced by hate? BJP will play both caste and communal cards, says a political commentator, because it has nothing to lose and very little to show. The party, he quips, revels in ‘speech-mongering’ and points to incendiary speeches by BJP leaders in Delhi during the anti-CAA protests and Delhi election. 


Kannadigas temperamentally are not swayed by hate, points out Devy. “These BJP MLAs were not elected to make hate speeches. Industries are moving out of Karnataka to Hyderabad, standards of education are falling, corruption is increasing but the government is utilising all its energy in hate speeches, '' he adds.

Some political commentators blame the Congress for its failure to counter the hate speech more aggressively. “Statements by one or two Congress leaders slamming them will not cut any ice with the voters.  The opposition to hate speech should be stronger and sustained. It should ideally come from the civil society, which the Congress should seriously think of engaging,'' he suggests.
BJP has the advantage of clarity. It is clear that Muslims, who constitute roughly 13 per cent of the voters, will not vote for it. It is also clear that it does not ‘need’ Muslim votes. Therefore, its choice is clear. It is the secular parties who seem to be confused on how to cope with the hatred and BJP’s communal politics, maintains Mohiuddin.


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