Kalburgi And Caste Wars In Karnataka

by Praveen Patil - Sep 3, 2015 07:11 PM +05:30 IST
Kalburgi And Caste Wars In Karnataka

The brutal murder of Kannada scholar Shri M.M. Kalburgi needs to be unequivocally condemned. A look at his life and times. 

For what shall I wield a dagger, o Lord?
What can I pluck it out of, or plunge it into,
When you are all the world O Ramanatha?
– Devar Dasimayya, a 10th Century Veerashaiva Poet-Saint

Queen Suggala Devi, the wife of Jayasimha II, a Western Chalukya king, was said to be the most famous disciple of Devar Dasimayya of Mudnur village in northern Karnataka. Those were testing times for the Vedantic Hindu philosophical life in different parts of India. The Chalukyas in particular had vigorously introduced Jainism across vast swathes of south-western and central India. While Hindu history celebrates Adi Shankara as the primary force of unity that electrified and reenergized Hinduism in the 8th century, there were also many other saints, philosophers and theologians who contributed to the revival of the Hindu way of life. Devar Dasimayya was one such poet-saint who waged almost a lone battle against various strands of Jainism prevalent in that Western Chalukya era. Despite popular belief prevalent even in Karnataka, the aphoristic form of poetry known as Vachana Sahitya, the redefining feature of Veerashaivism, predated Basavanna (the poet-saint who is credited with giving birth to Lingayatism) by almost two centuries.

If Devar Dasimayya’s battle was to re-establish Hinduism in a predominantly Jain society, two hundred years later, Basavanna’s idiom was to reform the excesses of Hindu society of 12th century through age-old prescriptions of Vedantic thought processes. They were both inventions of their times offering a truly reformatory Hindu traditional facet.

Even beyond Dasimayya and Basava, there exists a long tradition of Veerashaiva poets and saints who, from time to time, appeared in peripheries of the society preaching virtuous living, piety, tolerance and charity. They all had one common philosophical and metaphysical construct – adherence to Vedas and Hinduism. Early historic texts of medieval period clearly demonstrate these aspects of Veerashaiva Lingayatism. For instance, the 13th century Veerashaiva poet, Palkuriki Somanatha, the only authentic author of Basavanna’s biography, Basava Purana, unequivocally mentioned at multiple times that Veerashaiva Lingayatism fully confirmed to Vedas and Shastras.

As has been the case with most Hindu history, attempts were made much later to add elements of doubts into the system by bringing in dubious theories of divisions. These attempts have increased many fold in the last few decades and with good reasons.

The primary reason for altering historic realities was because of the fact that Veerashaiva Lingayats were one of the first large and powerful middle castes of India to have rejected the Nehruvian Congress ideology in totality. There were some fundamental economic reasons for this disenchantment among the Lingayats. Primarily, Lingayats are agrarian entrepreneurs and educationists who firmly believed in simple free market economics. There are three living examples of this free market economic philosophy of Veerashaivism that withstand the test of time even today:

  • Large meritorious Education Societies built by early Lingayat thought leaders immediately after independence which believed in providing quality education for a fee – KLE Society of Belgaum, HKE Society of Gulbarga and BLDE Society of Bijapur are some examples. Many of these societies undergo democratic elections to elect governing council bodies and run their institutions in a highly professional manner

  • Systematic rural food grain storage and dispensation system known as the Adath System which has been in existence since the British raj

  • Cooperative sub-urban and rural banking systems built by Veerashaivas that have helped the society prosper by reaching out to the poorest sections even where bank nationalization had failed

This ideological preamble of the Veerashaiva society created many areas of skirmishes with Indira Gandhi and her ultra-left economic philosophy. For instance, in the mid 1970’s the government of Mrs Gandhi at the centre and Devaraj Urs in the state decided to nationalize these Lingayat education societies which created many resistance movements across northern Karnataka. In fact, just a few years prior to that, S. Nijalingappa, the genial Lingayat leader of the state, had rebelled against Mrs Gandhi but had not managed to sway the electorate because of lack of resources.

Ever since the Nijalingappa break-up from the Congress party, Veerashivas were in search of better alternatives. This search got further intensified after the Urs rule in the 70’s. The advent of Ramakrishna Hegde and the creation of the LIBRA (Lingayat-Brahmin) social coalition in the mid-80’s provided the perfect platform for the anti-Congressism prevalent in the Lingayat community. Since then, barring the sole exception of a very brief flirtation in 1989 when Veerendra Patil was anointed as the face of the Congress party in the state, Veerashaivas have always been a counter-Congress force in the state.

After Ramakrishna Hegde’s gradual decline in the mid-90s, BJP has emerged as the true home of Veerashaivism in Karnataka. In fact, the rise of Yedyurappa in state politics has not only solidified the saffronization of Lingayats but also a section of Dalits belonging to the Left segment of Banjaras, Vaddars and Kabbaligas etc.  This formidable social coalition that catapulted BJP in to political domination has predictably resulted in counter mobilisation efforts by Congress party operating in tandem with Leftist-intellectual class in the state. Thus, for the last two odd decades there have been umpteen attempts to somehow dismantle the powerful Lingayat ecosystem by various “progressive” elements largely allied to the Congress party ecosystem.

Far-Left activists like Gauri Lankesh, Banjagere Jayaprakash and eminent litterateur like U.R. Anantamurthy and others have constantly tried to break the Lingayat ecosystem by writing provocative books and organizing symposiums around different themes of belittling the community and its history. Their primary anger is directed at the fact that Lingayats, and a section of Dalits, are aligning with Brahminism which represents the greatest betrayal of their anti-Brahminical (and anti-Hindu) theology, so carefully propagated by using communist tools of literary dissemination.

As many Kannada scholars have pointed out, the late M.M. Kalburgi was pitchforked as a leading intellectual light of anti-Lingayatism that sought to generate artificial divisions by creating a wedge between Veerashaivas and Lingayats where none existed, and both the terms were almost always used synonymously. Indeed, Kalburgi incorporated all the elements of anti-Lingayatism by not only ridiculing the Veerashaiva system but also mounted what clearly came across as a motivated counter narrative to larger Hindu philosophical construct.

Whether one agrees with him or not, the controversial and outspoken Kalburgi was certainly a scholar of considerable repute. His dastardly daylight murder needs to be condemned unequivocally. It stands against the very essence of Hinduism which believes in tolerance of counter-belief systems and is best symbolized by that beautiful aphorism of Dasimayya quoted above. Yet, there are two very dangerous aspects one must not forget in all the noise of anger.

The first is the way the media has reacted to the whole episode. Within hours after the murder, newspaper headlines and TV studio scrolls announced to the whole world that the heinous act was committed by radical Right Wing groups. But early indications emerging from investigation trial suggest that the murder could well be linked to a property dispute in the Kalburgi household. Hence, it is extremely critical that police conduct a thorough investigation.

The second worrying aspect is the way one-sided debates are being conducted on unfortunate event by a section of the media. Isn’t it a reprehensible act to systematically undermine the history, theology and belief system of an entire community just because it has not been amenable to progressive notions on subalternism?

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.
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