Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. (Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images) 
Snapshot
  • How a three-day congregation of Hindu seers and leaders in Udupi, Karnataka, had Chief Minister Siddaramaiah worried for his chances in coming assembly elections.

The three-day Dharma Sansad (parliament of Dharma), organised from 26 to 28 November in Udupi, saw the participation of many seers and religious leaders from different Hindu religious orders across India. Among other things, the sansad praised the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state for not having harassed Hindu temples and mutts in the state.

The Dharma Sansad was held in Udupi after a gap of 32 years and the efforts to organise it were led by the Dharmadhikari of Srikshetra Dharmasthala, D Veerendra Heggade, who was also the president of the Dharma Sansad. This was quite appropriate as the K Siddaramaiah government in 2015 had made a concerted effort to take over the Dharmasthala Sri Manjunatheshwara Swamy Temple. The sansad was inaugurated by the junior seer of Tumkur Siddaganga Mutt and the seer of Balehonnur Jagadguru Rambhapuri Veerasimhasana Mahasamasthna Peeta. Both these seers are important figures, who are opposing the demand for a seperate Lingayat religion which is being orchestrated by the current Congress government in Karnataka.

Along with Lingayat seers, Shri Nirmalanandanatha Swami of the powerful Vokkaliga Adichunchanagiri Mutt played an important role in the sansad. Given the Siddaramaiah government’s disproportionate funding of churches which increased by over 91 per cent in the first three years of his term, as well as its support for the healing crusades by Western missionaries, the presence of this mutt at the sansad, which has historically opposed conversions, was significant.

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The Decisions Taken By The Sansad

In front of a massive crowd of 2.5 lakh Hindus, Vishvesha Tirtha Swami announced the decisions taken by the Dharma Sansad in the Hindu Samajotsava held at its conclusion.

  • The first major decision taken by the sansad was to completely eradicate untouchability. This, in his opinion, is a necessity for building harmony in the Hindu society.
  • The second major decision was to demand that Hindus should get the same rights as minorities under the current legal framework. In his words: “The rights given to minorities (by the republic) should be given to the majority, ie Hindus. There should be absolutely no discrimination on the basis of religion”. This announcement had already been made on the second day and had created a backlash
  • The third major decision was to demand that Hindu temples and religious institutions should have the same rights and privileges as churches, mosques and other religious institutions. There should be no inequality in granting these rights and privileges on the basis of religion.
  • The construction of a bhavya Ram Mandir in Ayodhya needs to begin within one year.

A Message To The Congress And The Backlash

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The decisions taken by the participants at the sansad sent out a clear message to the current state government, condemning Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s attempts to harass Hindu institutions, divide Hindu society and openly encourage Christians to indulge in conversion activities.

The Chief Minister and the Congress ecosystem seem to have understood the implications of this coming together of religious leaders from across different communities in Karnataka, and they have started to play dirty by twisting the statements made by Vishvesha Tirtha Swami. While the English media and sections of the Kannada press that supports Congress mostly ignored the first decision, they managed to twist the second decision to manufacture a controversy about the seer and the sansad. They accused them of being anti-Dalit for wanting to change the Constitution drafted by Dr B R Ambedkar.

However, this claim was both biased and unjustified. To counter the backlash triggered by the announcement made on the second day, Tirtha Swami made it a point to elaborate on the second decision by deconstructing 'Ahinda', a term frequently used by the Congress, Siddaramaiah and their ilk. Ahinda is an acronym for ‘Alpasankhyaataru, Hindulidavaru and Dalitaru’ – minorities, backwards and Dalits. He explained that while the ‘A’ of Ahinda, ie – minorities get a number of benefits from the current state government, the ‘Hinda’ – backwards and Dalits get next to nothing.

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He explained that educational institutions run by those from backward and Dalit castes do not get the same benefits and protection as those run by citizens who are from minority communities (probably referring to Article 30 and the 93rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution). Tirtha Swami stressed that he and the Sansad never demanded a revamp of the entire Constitution but only sought an amendment to bring about equality in the rights granted to different religions under the Constitution. He pointed out that the proposed amendment was not anti-Dalit, but was to bring Dalits and backward castes on par with minorities in terms of rights and benefits.

A Jittery Congress

Worried about the Hindu consolidation during the Dharma Sansad, Congress-affiliated Dalit organisations and the ‘progressive intellectuals’ of Karnataka continued to protest despite Tirtha Swami's explanation. Shantaraju, the president of an organisation named Dalit Welfare Trust, even went as far as calling Tirtha Swami a bigot. There were even protests at the 83rd Akhila Bharata Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in Mysuru. ‘Reputed’ online news portals misquoted the Pejawar seer as having said that – "the benefits and privileges guaranteed to Dalits and minorities to be extended to majority communities" despite Tirtha Swami repeatedly clarifying to the contrary. While the hit-job was moderately successful, it was counterproductive to the Congress’s agenda of maligning the Dharma Sansad as it sparked a major debate in Karnataka about the rights and benefits denied to Hindus.

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Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was so rattled by the Dharma Sansad that be branded those who attended the meeting, which included the seers of the Adichunchungiri Mutt, Siddaganga Mutt, Suttur Mutt, Balehonnur Rambhapuri Mutt, Taralabalu Mutt and even the Dharmadhikari of Srikshetra Dharmasthala – "the enemies of secularism".

The utter neglect of this constituency, which participated in the Dharma Sansad, may cost the Chief Minister dearly in the coming assembly elections.

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