Eleven years ago, the BJP wanted to stay in power and therefore chose not to fight when a minister was pulled up for his remarks on Tipu Sultan.
Now, as Anantkumar Hegde’s remarks come under scrutiny, the party should know better than to give into politically motivated people’s demands.
In 2006, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed its first-ever government in South India. It was a coalition government in Karnataka on the (in)famous 20-20 basis. Despite being the junior partner, Janata Dal (Secular) had a chief minister from the party. This government had a higher education minister from the BJP – D H Shankaramurthy, who was well-known for his intellect, honesty and ideological integrity, as he was also a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) man.
Shankaramurthy, however, had one controversy to his name. In 2006, when he was a minister, he called Tipu Sultan “anti-Kannada”. His contention was only limited to Tipu’s promotion of alien languages over the native language. This view could not be referred to by that well-known Nehruvian jibe, “communal”, by any stretch of the imagination. Shankaramurthy had facts on his side. He, however, albeit reluctantly, was forced to apologise for his remarks against the tyrant of Mysore. Former prime minister H D Devegowda himself was among those who demanded an apology from Shankaramurthy. He was left alone to defend himself. Perhaps the bigger names in the BJP or RSS in Karnataka thought it would be unwise to antagonise their coalition partner.
Today we have a government in Karnataka which brazenly sends the Tipu tableau for representing the state during Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. This government also celebrates Tipu’s birthday by spending taxpayer money. There are some pro-Tipu organisations and leftist writers who are calling for the renaming of Bengaluru International Airport after Tipu. Eleven years ago, the BJP wanted to stay in power and chose not to fight. The government fell within the next 12 months anyway. This betrayal wasn’t unexpected, going by the track record of opportunism of the JD(S), which had betrayed the Congress earlier.
During the last few days, we have another Karnataka BJP politician with uncompromising ideological integrity thrown to the wolves and made to apologise on the national stage. The speech Anantkumar Hegde delivered was in Kannada language, which is also my mother tongue. The opposition essentially made two allegations. The first one is of “anti-secularism”, as Hegde called a particular type of secularists rootless by logically arriving at this conclusion. The second one is of being “anti-Constitution”, since Hegde spoke of his (party’s) intentions of changing the Constitution.
Keeping in mind that Hegde was addressing a Brahmin gathering in Koppala as a guest, let us take a look at some of his (paraphrased) statements:
In this country, there are myriads of traditions, faiths, belief systems etc., Some people wrongly attribute this intellectual diversity in our Hindu society to the reason why Hindu society can’t be organized. We are not among the Chamchas, who just adhere to someone’s ideas and opinions. Our system has evolved over thousands of years. We accept that what appeals to us. We don’t care who said that. We don’t know the names of most authors of our Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. Those authors too chose to remain unnamed, as name and fame was not the part of their agenda. Those unnamed authors wanted this society to be happy and prosperous. Caste is an abomination, which has a very recent history. The man who divided the Vedas into four was not a Brahmin by birth. He was born in a Boatman’s family. Vālmiki, who wrote the Rāmāyana was not a Brahmin by birth, he was a hunter. It was Vishwakarma community, that gave us Bhāradwāja Samhita. This community built our cities and were pioneers in Engineering in this world. Vishwakarma community is not considered as a Brahmin community. Most of the authors of our Suktas and Samhitas too were not Brahmins by birth.
Dvija means born-again, not Brahmin. People, who don’t know Sanskrit deliberately mislead people into believing that words like Dvija and Vipra means Brahmins. By birth all of us are like animals. Our Karma makes us what we are.
Smritis have been changing all our history. Some people want to beat us with the Manusmriti. They must know better than that. Manusmriti is no longer relevant. Today’s Smriti is Ambedkar Smriti. Those who still poke us with Manusmriti are real “sampradāyavādis”. They are fools. These Smritis are only historical footsteps. They (pseudo-secularists/Leftists) are only accusing us of mistakes committed by them.
If some Muslim calls himself a Muslim. I feel happy for him. I feel happy for a Christian, who calls himself a Christian. I also feel happy for those who claim to be Lingayats, Brahmins or Hindus. Because these people are aware of their ancestry. But, I am confused and skeptical of those who call themselves jātyātita (Kannada word for secular, which means someone beyond jāti or identity by birth). Those who can’t identify their ancestors call themselves jātyātitas. One might say, secularism is an ideal from the Constitutuion. I too respect Constitution. But, this Constitution has been changed many times in the past in accordance with changing time and it shall be changed even in future.
I have listened to Hegde’s speech many times over. It was neither “anti-Constitution” nor “anti-secularist”. I watched many Kannada television debates on this matter. There is not a single statement that the Nehruvians and their allies from the left could hold on to in order to prove their case. All they did was engage in some strange wordplay. In the national mainstream media, Hegde’s reluctant apology was initially reported as “sorry, but not sorry” and by the end of the day it magically got morphed into a normal apology.
However, there is a significant difference between the instances of both Shankaramurthy and Hegde. In 2006, the BJP was weak both nationally and in Karnataka. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was ruling from the centre. In 2017, a very popular BJP is ruling at the centre and the Congress government in Karnataka is highly unpopular. Even though the BJP defended Hegde better than they did Shankaramurthy in 2006, this wasn’t enough to call the bluff of those demanding an apology.
Few heavy-weight Karnataka BJP politicians defended Hegde. What should worry the BJP is how much they are prepared to go on the back foot fearing spin despite batting on a solid wicket. The opposition already spun the remark calling it an insult to B R Ambedkar. One of the BJP members of Parliament, who is also a lawyer, started to explain why it wasn’t an insult to the architect of the Indian Constitution. He was defending a baseless allegation hurled at his colleague, instead of counter-attacking by demanding substantiation of the allegation made by the opposition.
An All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen politician, Gurushant Pattedar, has made at least two public fatwas, one in Hindi and another in Kannada, against Hegde by announcing a reward of Rs 1 crore from his side to those who cut off Hegde’s tongue by 26 January. Where was the outrage about that? Now let us keep him aside and focus on his boss, Asaduddin Owaisi. Two of the recent speeches of Owaisi, one branding Hindus as sterile and another abound in Islamosupremacism, hardly received any of the outrage and attention that they sincerely deserved.
Hegde is, however, no political pushover. He has been a Lok Sabha member from Uttara Kannada since 1996, except for a five-year gap from 1999 to 2004. He has an exceptional oratory skill in Kannada language. There have been some television debates in Kannada media discussing the possibility of Hegde being the Yogi Adityanath of Karnataka. If the rule of “Mārgadarshak Mandal after 75” would be applied to B S Yeddyurappa as well, he would be 75 in the next two months. This makes Karnataka politics interesting. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reacts to Hegde’s criticisms while ignoring most others, including well-known Hindutva leaders. Hegde comes from that part of Karnataka which has had a negligible influence on the state’s politics. If the BJP chooses to turn Ananth into anāth because of infighting or not, they will simply be repeating their past mistakes.
Cries such as “Constitution under threat!” and “Secularism under threat!” are nothing but Nehruvian versions of baseless and politically motivated slogans like “Islam khatre mein hain!”. These are only narrow and subjective instances of moral outrage. Political correctness is the Marxist way of moral policing. Given half a chance, the leftists wouldn’t think twice before dismantling the state itself. Hence, any moral outrage from them in such matters is hierocracy.
How should the BJP undo this damage? By growing a spine of moral courage. You don’t become magnanimous by apologising for no reason. By making such apologies, you concede moral authority to your opponents. Someone else from the Karnataka BJP should repeat what Hegde said and refuse to apologise. This is how you keep the fire alive – by passing it on to the next lamp.