Hindutva as a ‘sacred form’: a case Study of Karnataka Abstract

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Hindutva as a ‘sacred form’: A Case Study of Karnataka


Contrary to the expectations of the advocates of secularization thesis, similar to other modernizing societies, economic development and democratic governance have not been a deterrent to the rise of religion in the public sphere in India. The stupendous victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 parliamentary elections in India under the leadership of Narendra Modi and successive wins in several state assembly elections are testimony to this. While a considerable amount of academic and media attention has been bestowed upon the BJP and towards analyzing its political fortune in different states, there has been a paucity of literature that situates the contribution of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar in strengthening the foundations of its political affiliate in different regions of India. This paper responds to this surprising gap by examining the emergence and consolidation of Hindutva in the state of Karnataka. It is focused in particular on the ways in which it has negotiated regional specificities in the region while subscribing to its core ideology of building a strong organic ‘Hindu Rashtra’. This analysis becomes particularly pertinent at a time when Karnataka is headed for state assembly elections in mid- 2018.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular phenomenon in Indian politics since the past decade has been the meteoric rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party. After its successful win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party now has managed to form governments either individually or in partnership with a regional party in twenty one states across the country. Hindutva’s advancement from periphery to the center of Indian politics explains its remarkable adaptability to the changing socio- political landscape of India. Apart from the political outfit, the Sangh Parivar now has its presence in almost every possible region in the country. This is an interesting fact, considering the Sangh Parivar’s rigid adherence to the idea of building a corporate and unified ‘Hindu Rashtra’, as envisaged by Savarkar, Hedgewar, Golwalkar and the other builders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As in any form of ethnic nationalism, Hindu nationalism, in its formative phase at least, looked at the society as an organic, harmonious whole.1 K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS claims India as a Hindu Rashtra. Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha pleaded that Hindustan is one homogeneous country and States are mere administrative units. Golwalkar also clearly spelt out: “We are one country, one society, and one nation…; and hence, it is natural that the affairs of the nation are governed through a single state of the unitary type.”2 Deendayal Upadhyaya, also, favours an ‘integrated Bharat’ which is based on his idea of ‘national soul’(chiti) that has to be ‘awakened’ to its destiny and its virat (‘life force’).3 The Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), Hindutva’s first affiliate, in its first election manifesto in 1951 stated: “The whole of Bharatvarsha, from Himalayas to Kanyakumari, is and has been, through the ages, a living organic whole—geographically, culturally and historically.”4

The BJS, soon after its formation in 1951, echoing Golwalkar’s enunciation, adopted ‘One country, One People, One Culture, One Nation and One ideal’ as its Fundamentals. Hindutva’s uncompromising agenda of a unitary India also logically compelled it to search for an all-encompassing National Language in the post-independence period. As language constituted an integral part of Hindutva’s concept of nationhood, it propagated rhetorics like ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindusthan’. In Hindutva’s understanding, political unity could be maintained only by making Hindi as the sole lingua franca, not only between the centre and the states but between one state and another as well. Rigid adherence to the concept of an organic state however, has not stopped Hindutva from making a dent in regional politics.

In a country like India with innumerable diversities, myriad combinations of language, religion, caste, tribe and class often juxtapose themselves into interesting combinations within its different regions. The Parivar realizes this, and therefore intelligently and strategically expands itself by embarking upon certain region specific mobilization campaigns. Political compulsions have also necessitated Hindutva to change its stance on regions. Regionalization of Indian politics became a permanent feature since 1996 when regional parties and few independent candidates captured 171 seats in the eleventh Lok Sabha elections. The failure of the BJP to garner support from regional parties to win a confidence vote and formation of the United Front Ministry called for an introspection. Still the BJP was not prepared to come to terms with this new political reality; the 1998 Election Manifesto echoed the old Jana Sangh commitment to ‘one nation, one people and one culture’. However, the BJP quickly did course correction by shrewdly forging an alliance with regional parties to control New Delhi in 1998. Besides ensuring power at the Centre, this alliance provided Hindutva a great opportunity to transcend geographical barriers in spreading its social and political tentacles into the vast tracts of the nation. This paper is focused on the ways in which Hindutva has negotiated regional specificities in Karnataka while subscribing to its core ideology of building a strong organic ‘Hindu Rashtra’. This analysis becomes particularly pertinent at a time when Karnataka is headed for state assembly elections in mid- 2018.

Karnataka: Brief Overview of the State and Demography

The territory of Karnataka (originally known as the state of Mysore) was formed in 1956 when the Kannada speaking districts of the states of Bombay, Andhra, Madras, Hyderabad and Coorg were integrated. The state of Mysore was officially christened as Karnataka on November 1, 1973, which is celebrated as Kannada Rajyotsava day. Currently the state consists of thirty districts which are spread across four administrative divisions which are Belagavi, Bengaluru, Kalburagi and Mysuru.

In terms of its religious demography, as per the Census of 2011, Hindus constitute 84%, Muslims consist of 12.92% and Christians constitute 1.87% of the state’s population. Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains consist of less than 1% of the population each.

Amongst the southern states in India, Karnataka has the second largest population of Muslims after Kerala. While Muslims are spread across all districts of the state, the northern districts of Bidar, Gulbarga and Bijapur, the central districts of Dharwad and Haveri and the coastal districts of Dakshin Kannada and Kodagu have considerably large concentrations of Muslim population. The presence of Muslims is particularly high in the towns of Gargeshwari (Mysore district), Allipura (Chikkaballapura), Manjanady (Dakshin Kannada) and Bhatkal (Uttar Kannada).

Christians are mostly concentrated in the coastal districts of Dakshin Kannada, Udupi and Bengaluru Urban.

Major Religious Traditions

It is interesting to note that while Hindus constitute an overwhelming majority in the state, they are far from being a homogenous community. Since ancient times, this region has been a confluence of myriad Hindu sects such as Saivism, Saktism and Vaisnavism.

Saivism assumed its most popular form in the Virasaiva/ Lingayat movement led by Basaveshwara in the twelfth century (Aerthayil 1989). Virasaivism which became immensely popular in the region now identified as Karnataka, was essentially a reformist movement which sought to oppose ritualism and casteism in Hinduism. The followers of this movement popularly known as Lingayats became an important political power in the subsequent years. Vaisnavism, more precisely, the Vishisthadvaita branch of Vedanta Hinduism, was popularized by Ramanuja Acharya around the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Ramanuja, who hailed from Tamil Nadu, was given patronage by the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana who enabled him to propagate Vaisnavism in the region that now comprises Karnataka. The Dvaita philosophy advocated by Madhavacharya also helped in popularizing Vaisnavism during the thirteenth century in Karnataka. Saktism is represented in the Chamundeshwari temple in Mysore.

Both Mahayana and Theravada sects of Buddhism also flourished in the region since first millennium. Jainism gained popularity in the medieval period in this region and its most popular shrine in Shravanabelagola continues to attract large number of people from across the country till today.

Islam entered the region through Arab traders who visited coastal Karnataka from the eighth century onward and several Muslim communities such as the Moplahs, Byaris and Navayaths in coastal Karnataka are mostly descendants of these traders. Islam however, found a solid footing in the region only from the fourteenth century onward after dynasties such as the Bahamani and Adilshahi established the sultanates of Bidar and Bijapur respectively. It was further consolidated after the entry of the Mughal rule through Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century and the installation of Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan subsequently in Mysore.

Christianity entered the region through the Portugese in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and found a substantive following amongst the local people.

Political Scenario:

The Congress held sway in Karnataka from 1956 to 1983. Even after the imposition of National Emergency in 1975, the party did not lose its popularity, and contrary to its fate in several other states, it was returned to power after the Emergency. However, the party lost power in 1983 to the Janata Party which formed the government under the leadership of Ramakrishna Hegde with the support of the BJP which had won 18 seats. The Congress however regained power in the 1989 state assembly elections. After the Janata Party started disintegrating from the end of 1980s, Janata Dal started gaining ground, especially since the 1994 elections. The BJP also made strident progress from the 1994 elections onward when it managed to capture 40 seats and has since been a major force in the state. The BJP’s first major breakthrough occurred in the 2004 elections when it emerged as the single largest party by winning 79 of the 224 seats. However, it could not immediately form the government because the Congress Party which had secured 65 seats and the Janata Dal (S) (JD (S) ) who won 58 seats entered into a coalition and formed the government. This alliance however did not last for long; in early 2006, JD (S) withdrew its support from the coalition and entered into a new alliance with BJP. H.D. Kumaraswamy from JD (S) became the Chief Minister and B.S. Yedyurappa became the Deputy Chief Minister with an understanding that after 20 months, the former would relinquish his position to the latter. However, this arrangement did not last long due to disagreements regarding power sharing between the two parties. Finally, fresh elections were called for in 2008 when the BJP emerged as the single largest party again winning 110 out of 224 seats. BJP was able to form the government with the support of 6 independent MLAs and Yedyurappa became the Chief Minister. In 2013, Congress again returned to power winning 122 seats and formed the government under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, while BJP won only 40 seats.

Evolution of Hindutva in Karnataka

The origin of Hindutva in Karnataka can be traced to pre-Independence times when the first RSS shakha was started by Dadarao Paramarth, a Sangh pracharak, in Chikkodi, a small town in Belgavi district of Karnataka in 1935. Dadarao Paramarth was one of the three pracharaks handpicked by Hedgewar to initiate Sangh work in Karnataka. The other two pracharaks were Bhavoo Rao Deoras and Yadav Rao Joshi. Two years later, on January 16th, 1937, sarsanghchalak Hedgewar visited Chikkodi.5 It was however the relentless efforts of Yadav Rao Joshi, that led to the strengthening of Sangh activities in Karnataka. He began working in this region as a Prant Pracharak from 1941 and organized the work of the RSS in the region by dividing Karnataka prant (province) into four Vibhagsand appointed Vibhag pracharaks for each Vibhag.6 He also took the lead in starting publications such as Jagarana Prakashan (1971), Pungava Jagarana newspaper (1979), Balgokulam of Kerala (1974) amongst others. In 1949, sarasanghchalak Golwalkar visited Bangalore and Hubli in 1949 along with Yadav Rao Joshi after the ban on RSS was lifted.

Yadav Rao Joshi also became instrumental in establishing several Sangh affiliates dedicated to seva (service) and cultural activities such as the Rashtrotthana Parishat (1965), Hindu Seva Pratishthana (1980), Jana Seva Vidya Kendra (1972) and Hindu Munnani (1980) and Hindu Samajotsavs. Seva activities of the Sangh Parivar continue to be carried out by these organizations even today. According to a report7 published by the Rashtriya Sewa Bharati, in 2014, there were 7646 seva projects operational in Karnataka that consisted of welfare activities in the realm of health, education, ‘samajik’ (social) and economic.

Apart from the work of the RSS, other affiliates simultaneously acquired footing in this region. In 1944, V.D. Savarkar, accompanied by Nathuram Godse visited Shimoga to address a state level Hindu Mahasabha conference which was organized to instill ‘love’ and ‘pride’ amongst Hindus.8 Savarkar appealed to the people to continue organizing the Ganesha festival every year under the banner of the Veer Savarkar Hindu Sanghatan Mahamandali. Shimoga was deliberately chosen as the venue for the conference as it was considered favorable to the Hindutva cause.9 The conference was considered a big success as over 50,000 people attended it. Meanwhile the political affiliate of the Sangh Parivar also started building base from the early 1960s onward. In 1968, Bharatiya Jan Sangh won the civic body elections in Udupi, apparently, the first occasion when the party came to power in an elected body in South India.10 Several leaders like Kesari Jagannatha Rao Joshi, A.K.Subbaiah, Dr. K.S.Dattaatri, Varadaraja Shetty, Mallikarjunaiah, Karmaballi Sanjeeva Shetty, Dr.V.S.Acharya, and D.H. Shakaramurthy played an important role in popularizing the ideology of Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

When Vishwa Hindu Parishad was formed in 1964, Dadasaheb Apte found an ally in Mysore Maharaja Sri Jayachamaraja Wadeyar who agreed to lead the Parishad as one of its Conveners.11 The VHP held its third national executive meeting on May 27-28, 1965 in the royal palace of the Mysore Maharaja. The head of the Pejavur matha in Udupi, Teertha Swami, a disciple of the second RSS sarsanghchalak Golwalkar, was another founder member of the VHP from this region who had an influential role to play in promoting Hindutva in coastal Karnataka in the early years. 12 Teertha Swami was associated with the Ramjanambhoomi movement right from the beginning. In 1969, Teertha Swami also organised the first state-level conference of the VHP and invited Golwalkar to be the chief guest in the event. According to RSS veteran leader M.G. Vaidya, the approval for allowing re-conversion (popularly known as ‘ghar wapsi’) in Hinduism was first given in Sri Krishna Math, Udupi, Karnataka in 1969, when shankaracharyas, mahants and several Hindu saints held a gathering.13 Teertha Swami was particularly strong in his advocacy for ‘ghar wapsi’ and he questioned those leaders who had kept silent when large scale conversions of Hindus into other religions had taken place.14

As an ardent supporter of the VHP, his matha collaborated on several social welfare activities with the VHP especially in the realm of education and health for poor tribals. However, the most important activity towards which the VHP directed itself was the prevention of cow slaughter. Police records in this region from the 1960s onward reveal that several Muslim cattle traders were attacked.15 The VHP grew in popularity during the years of the Emergency; it attracted several Congress and even Left wing leaders within its fold and gradually expanded to other regions of the state such as such as Hubli, Dharwad, Raichur and Bagalkot. 16 From the end of the 1970s, however, more extremist and militant groups such as the Hindu Yuva Sene, and at a later stage (in the 1990s), the Hindu Jagarana Vedike and the Bajrang Dal (particularly after the Godhra riots in 2002) took on the task of cow protection and unleashed a more virulent form of Hindutva in the state.17 Over a period of time, these groups started attacking Churches, forming vigilante groups that sought to enforce dress codes and ‘appropriate behaviour’ for women and condemning and attacking young couples who were engaged in inter-religious relationships under the pretext of countering ‘Love Jihad’. Another fringe group to join this club was the emergence of Sri Rama Sene under the leadership of Pramod Muthalik in the mid-2000s, following a split in the Bajrang Dal in Karnataka. Sri Rama Sene drew enormous negative attention when its members attacked young men and women in a Mangalore pub in January 2009, on the pretext of ‘teaching them a lesson’ for inappropriate behaviour.

Hindutva in Coastal Karnataka

The ideology of Hindutva found popular support in the state, especially the coastal districts, even before BJP captured state power in the year 2008 for the first time. As Assadi notes18, Hindutva had established its presence in several districts of coastal Karnataka by adopting a multipronged strategy. He draws attention to the ways in which Hindutva forces benefitted from the changing socio-economic conditions in this region from the 1970s onward following the breakdown of erstwhile feudal structures such as the ‘Guttenar system’ (through land reforms), the Gulf boom and the sense of displacement that the dominant castes suffered from. While one section of the dominant castes migrated to Mumbai and other metropolitan cities, a small percentage who stayed back entered into banking and education sectors. The former group tried to overcome their sense of loss of identity by reproducing local festivals such as ‘Nagamandala’, ‘Bhoot Kolas’ or ‘Kambalas’. The latter group were disgruntled to see that they now had to contend with hitherto marginalized groups such as the Baerys (Muslims) in small businesses and jobs.

Hindutva forces saw in this an opportunity to bring the disgruntled Hindu groups under their fold. Organization of ‘Hindu Samajotsavas’ (large assemblies of Hindus), apart from the usual Ganesha festivals, by leaders of VHP and other members of the Sangh Parivar have been another useful strategy to mobilize the Hindu masses in this region. Hindus of all denominations, caste and class groups along with leaders of their respective mutts are invited to participate in these spectacles, thus enabling a coalition of support base amongst dominant castes such as ‘bunts’, backward castes/classes such as ‘billavas, kulalas, devadiagas’ and the upper castes such as ‘konkanis’ and brahmins. Other groups that were subsequently brought under their fold were the mogaveeras, kulalas and devadigas who were becoming insecure after Muslims started entering their traditional occupations of fishing and canning. Assadi also draws attention to the fact that in constructing this social coalition, the Sangh Parivar has deployed ‘new narratives’ and ‘new discourses’ while building the ‘other’ than the usual stereotypical discourses. It typically uses an economic argument here to demonise two categories of Muslims: the Baerys and the Navyathis. It is easy to construct these communities as the ‘enemy’ as they have benefitted immensely from their trade ventures in West Asia during the Gulf boom and pumped back their profits in the textile, hotel, timber and canning industries in coastal Karnataka.

A case in point is Bhatkal, a town in Uttar Kannada which comprises of an overwhelming population of Navyathis and a small percentage of Namdharis (toddy tappers) who are Hindus. Navyathis were traditionally, land owners and Namdharis were the caretakers. In a place where Hindus were numerically outnumbered and less dominant economically, the Hindutva rhetoric found an easy entry. Moreover, this small town became an epicentre for a radical form of Islam from the early 1990s onward under the influence of rich Muslim youth who returned with enormous amount of wealth made in the Gulf countries. This community invested their money in establishing educational and religious institutions and over a period of time also became instrumental in encouraging young men and women to join extremist organizations such as the Student's Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Indian Mujahideen (IM) and the Islamic State (IS). 19Several intelligence reports have also periodically drawn attention to the fact that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been operating in India through its agents in Bhatkal.20All of these factors have led to Bhatkal becoming a fertile territory for communal polarisation and several riots from the 1990s onward.

The spread of Hindutva in coastal Karnataka however, did not go uncontested. After the communal riots at Surathkal, near Mangalore in 1998, an Islamic organization named the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) made an entry into this region.21 The group later merged with another extremist, Kerala-based political outfit named National Development Front and was rechristened as the Popular Front of India (PFI) in 2006. The PFI and its political affiliate, the Social Democratic Party, have been opposing the Sangh Parivar and has also been allegedly involved in forced religious conversions and attacking those who are viewed as opponents of Islam.


Several scholars and media articles have also drawn attention to the ‘mathas’ as being important allies of Hindutva in the state of Karnataka. Parvathy Menon has pointed out that though mathas are legally defined as religious establishments headed by a leader, in reality their role extends much beyond the religious.22 She further adds that the mathas are sharply divided along caste lines and play an important role in political outcomes by offering either direct or indirect support to certain political parties. The Pejavar and the Adamar mathas in particular, have been champions in espousing Hindutva. Menon mentions that the eight Madhwa mathas in the coastal belt, who are the joint custodians of the Krishna temple in Udupi, have been very instrumental in spreading Hindutva, both ideologically and as an electoral force. The Pejavur Matha, she mentions, has actively promoted the institution of the samavesha, which has been the most popular avenue for advocating unification of all Hindus. These samaveshas and samajotsavs serve as platforms for political mobilization where leaders like Togadia are periodically invited to deliver speeches. Menon provides evidence to argue that erstwhile religious functions like paryaya (which marks the transfer of authority from one leader to the other) have now become ‘state level’ functions and a source of status for mathas.

Menon also argues that despite their affiliations to distinct caste groups, mathas are increasingly trying to advocate for Hindutva across caste lines and have toned down Brahminism at least in their rhetoric to make themselves popular amongst the lower castes. Thus hitherto marginalized groups such as the cobblers, weavers, fishermen and carpenters are actively welcomed into rallies and other public functions organized by the mathas. The mathas have also realized that unless they build political relationships with groups affiliated to the Sangh Parivar, their outreach and scale would be limited. They also run a series of social welfare projects in the realm of health and education.

It is well know that Lingayats and Vokkaligas are the two dominant communities in Karnataka that exercise significant influence during elections. While the Veerashaiva mathas have been successful in mobilizing Lingayats for electoral purposes, the Adichunchungiri matha is seen as the religious authority of the Vokkaliga community. The Siddaganga matha in Tumkur district is another matha that is seen as wielding enormous political power and politicians ranging from Congress to BJP are seen vying for the pontiff Shivakumar Swamy’s support, though the latter is primarily seen as an important ally for the BJP.

Communal Riots

A news report in a national daily in October 2015 mentions that Karnataka features among the top five states in the country for communal violence23. The article elaborates that the state recorded 321 incidents of communal violence between January 2011 and June 2015 which injured 930 people and killed 16 persons. Another report of August 2016 mentions that according to the National Crime Records Bureau, Karnataka recorded the second highest number of communal riots across the country in 2015.24 This report also adds that of the 6603 riots reported, 163 incidents were labelled as communal riots. Needless to say, these riots have deepened the wedge between religious communities and have helped the consolidation of the saffron brigade in the state.

Though the number of communal riots have spiked in number since 2015 onward, it is important to bear in mind that Karnataka has been prone to communal conflagrations since the 1970s. One of the first major riots in this region took place in the town of Bhatkal in 1978 during state elections. Mysore witnessed its first communal conflagration in December 1986, after riots brokes out in Bangalore following the publication of a story in Deccan herald titled ‘Mohammed the Idiot’. It has been alleged that the riots were provoked by the display of thousands of saffron flags that were planted by VHP on vehicles, streets and housetops on the pretext of celebrating the upcoming Sankranti festival. The Ramjanambhoomi movement had a considerable impact in Karnataka as in several other places in the country. Communal riots broke out in Dharwad, Shimoga, Arsikere and Hubli, soon after the laying of the foundation stone for the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya in 1989.

This was followed by a subsequent riot in 1991 in Bhatkal when BJP used a loud speaker of the local mosque to deliver an election speech. As mentioned above, Bhatkal has been a communal hot spot due to the animosity between Muslims and Hindus catalysed by forces of Hindutva. Large scale riots broke out in 1993 and lasted for around six months in which 17 people were killed. Following this, the state government of Karnataka set up an enquiry commission under Justice Jagannatha Shetty. Even before the Commission had submitted its report, in April 1996, the sitting Bharatiya Janata Party MLA, Dr U Chittaranjan, which made the situation further tensed and increased the polarization between Hindus and Muslims.

Another communally sensitive spot that has been exploited by the Sangh Parivar to its advantage is Hubli. Hubli has been prone to communal violence since 1972 and has witnessed over thirty communal incidents since then. In August 1994, the Sangh Parivar tried to invoke communal violence when Uma Bharati and her colleagues tried to hoist the national flag at the controversial Idgah maidan in Hubli, even though the ownership of the property was sub-judice and a curfew had been imposed a day before. In 2001 again, riots broke out after erstwhile VHP leader celebrated his birthday in Hubli and led a rally where provocative speeches were delivered against Muslims and Pakistan.

Apart from overt communal riots, the Sangh Parivar has been consistently working towards building communal consciousness by promoting the public celebration of Hindu festivals. In 1984 for instance, the RSS and BJP decided to organize the Ganesha festival in a grand manner in Kolar, and doing away with all mohalla-based celebrations of the event.25 A Sarvajanika Ganesh Samiti was formed with the cooperation of the JP MLA KR Srinivasiah, and authorized to collect funds from the public. This samiti managed to collect enormous amounts of funds and all preparations done by Sangh sympathizers, thus leading to a consolidation of the Hindus in the town.

Another strategy that has worked with the Sangh in popularizing Hindutva in the state is that of conflating linguistic chauvinism with that of religious nationalism. It is a well-known fact that owing to the mass exodus of ‘non-Kannadigas’ from outside the state of Karnataka, especially after the IT boom in the 1990s has led to a heightened sense of insecurity amongst local people about a presumed loss of identity. Though a pro-Kannada movement had acquired momentum from the 1970s onward with the celebration of Rayotsava festivals, it was in the mid- 1950s, soon after the ‘unification’ of the state of Karnataka that language activists advocated for the institutional predominance of Kannada in the state. Lingappa, a member of the Socialist Party established the Kannada Yuvajana Sabha (KYS) in Mysore, which spearheaded this initiative.26 Over a period of time a plethora of pro-Kannada organizations have emerged such as the Kannada Shakti Kendra, the Rajkumar fans' associations or the Kannada Chaluvaligar movement, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike amongst others. Sangh affiliated organizations are often seen joining hands with these groups in order to garner some political mileage. A case in point is the language riots that occurred in Bengaluru in October 1994 due to the introduction of a ten minute Urdu bulletin on Doordarshan during the prime time slot, soon after the Kannada language newscast. The BJP wasted no time in joining hands with pro-Kannada organizations like Mico Kannada Sangha, the Channakeshavapura Kannada Sangha and the SKF Sangha who were organizing protest marches and dharnas in various parts of the city and alleged that the telecast had been started by the Congress government to garner the votes of Muslims in the upcoming state assembly elections.27 The riots that ensued from these events led to the death of 25 persons and left 350 people injured. There was also massive loss and damage of property in South Bangalore.

Similarly in Kolar, on the lines of the festivities of Kannada Rajyotsava day, where several local deities are brought out in a procession, the RSS started organizing Hindu samajotsavas. In these samajotsavas, all the deities in Kolar are gathered in one place and a procession is taken out. Slogans like ‘Bharatiyaru Hindugalu’ (All Indians are Hindus), ‘Namma Desha Hindu Desha’ (My country is Hindu), ‘Namma Rakta Hindu Rakta’ (My blood is Hindu blood) and ‘Navalla Vondu Hindu’ (We are all Hindus) are common in such rallies and obviously create a sense of insecurity amongst the minority communities.

As demonstrated above, Hindutva forces have been active in the state much before its political outfit, the BJP, acquired power in the state. However, the thrust of its activities became more intensive after BJP formed the government for the first time in 2008. Apart from a rise in the number of communal riots, there were a series of Church attacks in coastal Karnataka allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists. The state government appointed an inquiry commission under Justice BK Somashekara to investigate these attacks, which in an interim report submitted to the government in September 2009 which highlighted the involvement of Bajrang Dal in the attacks. However, in its final report submitted in 2011, Commission changed its stance and exonerated the Sangh Parivar of any role in the Church attacks. It also stated that an impression of the Parivar’s involvement was deliberately created to taint the image of the BJP government.28

Politicization of Tipu Sultan and Bababudangiri

The polemic surrounding Tipu Sultan’s birthday celebrations in Karnataka is a classic illustration of how contentious historical accounts and perceptions about different communities regarding certain historical figures can aid political parties to meet their goals. It is common knowledge that Tipu Sultan ruled the kingdom of Mysore in the last decades of the eighteenth century. While several historians have celebrated Tipu as a brave warrior who fought the British, many communities in Mangalore and Kodagu view him as a religious bigot who forcibly converted many peopled into Islam. In what is often perceived as a gesture of winning over Muslim vote-banks, the Congress government under Siddaramaiah, initiated the annual practice of celebrating Tipu’s birthday from 2015 onward. Hindutva affiliated groups which had been opposing the government’s plan to mark the 266th birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan protested against this and several clashes broke out between Hindus and Muslims in places like Kodagu and Hubli, which also led to the death of a VHP activist.29

The controversy surrounding the ownership of the Baba Budangiri shrine in Chikmaglur district of Karnataka has provided the Sangh Parivar with an opportunity to communalize the issue and consolidate Hindus in the state. This shrine which is known as ‘Sree Dattatreya Bababudan Swamy Dargah’ has been a place of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Muslims since long as it is believed that Dada Hayath Meer Khalandar (popularly known as Baba Budan), a companion of Prophet Muhammad arrived here in the 7th century B.C. The seat of his meditation is also believed to be the seat of Dattathreya Swamy, a reincarnation of Vishnu.30 In 1978, a controversy broke out after a Government Order directed the transfer of the shrine to the Wakf board which had already issued a gazette notification that declared the property as wakf.31 The Hindu groups pleaded against the decision and the matter went to court. The courts (at the district and state levels and the Supreme Court dismissed the petitions of the Wakf Board on the grounds that the shrine was a unique place of worship where both Hindus and Muslims offered prayers. From the 1980s onward, Sangh Parivar affiliates such as the VHP launched an initiative to ‘liberate’ the Dattathreya shrine from ‘Muslim control’. They also started performing ‘Vedic poojas’ outside the shrine and took out rath yatras and jeep yatras to reclaim the site as a Hindu place of pilgrimage. The issue has been deliberately incited since the past few months with an eye on the upcoming elections.

Congress toeing a soft- Hindutva Line?

It is often argued that the success of Hindutva cannot be measured in electoral terms alone. The electoral gains of the BJP are just one of the many parameters of understanding the influence of Hindu nationalism today because the Sangh Parivar has managed to build its presence in every conceivable sphere of civil society. What is even more interesting to observe is the rising popularity of the idea of Hindutva in the public realm, to the extent that even those political parties which are opposed to the ideology of Hindutva are now appropriating it. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah drew the attention of the media recently when he made public statements such as the following:

‘I am practicing Hindutva with humanity’,

‘I am also a Hindu..In my name also Rama is there’,

‘My name is Siddaramaiah. My family deity is Siddarameshwara. There is Ram Temple in my village’.32

These statements have come as a surprise to many especially since the Chief Minister has always stood by the stance that he is proud to be a ‘Ahinda’ leader (The acronym in Kannada for ‘Alpa sankhyatara’ or minorities, Hindulida, or backward castes and Dalits). Several analysts see this as a strategy to woo the Hindu voters in the upcoming elections ever since the BJP has accused the Congress of being anti-Hindu. Similar attempts were also made by the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat before the state assembly elections in December 2017 when he was seen visiting several temples in the state and asserting his Hindu identity in several fora. However, what also needs to be acknowledged here is the appropriation of a certain discourse that is gradually seen as being legitimate and even essential to win elections.


The essay above has tried to argue that any analysis about the meteoric rise of the BJP in specific contexts today needs to acknowledge the larger role of the Sangh Parivar in legitimizing and popularizing the discourse of Hindutva in that environment. In Karnataka, as in other states and regions of India, Hindutva operates as a holistic ecology that encapsulates a variety of organizations that work in different realms of society, ranging from the social, cultural to the political. What unites these institutions is a certain ideological commitment to idea of building what is believed to be a strong ‘Hindu rashtra’. In the concluding section of this paper I spend some time reflecting on the cultural appeal of Hindutva and why I think it is gaining ground as an ideology.

Studies on the expansion of the Sangh Parivar in different regions of India33 have thrown up interesting insights on the reasons for its rise as a political power. However, none of these studies provide a macro explanation for the phenomenal rise of Hindutva as a political ideology in the pan-Indian context. This paper begins with the proposition that the theory of secularization seems to have failed, in India too as elsewhere, as religion has made a convincing comeback in the public sphere. Here, I try to expand on this idea a little further by trying to examine if the phenomenon of Hindutva is symptomatic of a resurgence of ‘religion’ or something else?

Drawing from the theoretical framework offered by Gordon Lynch (2012), I find it more appropriate to use the term ‘sacred form’ to understand contemporary Hindutva. Building on the works of Durkheim, Edward Shils, Robert Bellah and Jeffrey C. Alexander, Lynch defines the ‘sacred’ as follows:

“The sacred is defined by what people collectively experience as absolute, non-contingent realities

which present normative claims over the meanings and conduct of social life. Sacred forms are

specific, historically contingent, instances of the sacred. Sacred forms are constituted by

constellations of specific symbols, thought/ disourse, emotions and actions grounded in the

body..The normative reality represented by a sacred form simultaneously constructs the evils

which profane it, and the pollution of this sacred reality is experienced by its adherents as a painful

wound for which some form of restitution is necessary.” (Ibid: 29).

Lynch further adds that the sacred is a ‘communicative structure’, imbued with power, that

‘constructs the idea of human society as a meaningful, moral collective’ (Ibid 133). What is of

particular relevance to the contemporary Indian context is Lynch’s discussion on the concept of the sacred in modern societies. Lynch says that although the form and significance of sacred forms are contingent and contextual, there are some general traits about the nature of the sacred in late

modern societies. Contrary to more homogenous societies, he argues, which are organized in

relation to an omnibus sacred form, ‘late modern societies are characterized by the simultaneous

presence of multiple sacred forms that exert complementary and conflicting fields of influence’

(Ibid: 135).

If one were to analyse the Hindu nationalist movement through the above framework, it

would become evident that Hindutva today is indeed a ‘sacred form’ that though connected to

Hinduism, is also different from it. The communicative structure of this sacred system is built with

the help of symbols and discourses relating to issues of relating to issues of ‘liberating’ Hindu places of worship from the ‘other’, prohibition of cow slaughter, promotion of yoga, protection of Hindu culture from the onslaught of the ‘others’, rejuvenation of Hindu institutions such as seva etc. In this regard it is important to note that even though the RSS’s goal of protecting the Hindu Dharma (religion), ideology of building a robust Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) and the use of specific symbols of worship, impart to it a ‘Hindu’ character’(Nair 2009), it has always maintained that it is a ‘cultural’ group. The concept of the Hindu Rashtra is constructed around the idea of Hindu culture which is identified as the national culture. This recourse to culture, which is a seemingly apolitical category, when compared to religion, is advantageous as it encompasses practically everything ranging from customs, rituals and festivals to political behaviour. The political project, which lies at the heart of Hindutva makes a back door entry through culture. In this scheme of things, the religious dimension, to the extent that it exists, is only instrumental and is appropriated from certain outward forms of the Hindu religion.

Lynch mentions that the power of sacred forms lies in that they offer a means for those burdened with the ‘anomie of modern life’, as the sacred helps an ‘ongoing remoralization of society’(Ibid: 122). Since Independence in 1947, Indian public life has been characterised by a liberal political tradition that was actively promoted by the existing political regime led by the charismatic leadership of Nehru. The Hindu conservative ideology, to the extent that it existed since the freedom movement, was effectively marginalised in public life. In this political milieu, religion as an institution was not welcomed or acknowledged as a legitimate participant in the political realm. The success of the Hindu nationalists may be partially attributed to their attempts at reversing this political culture and re-introducing Hindutva as a legitimate sacred form since the early 1980s. The Ramjanambhoomi movement that eventually led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid is perhaps the most spectacular feat that they achieved in this regard. Scholars like T.N. Madan (1987) and Ashish Nandy (1998) have shown how the imposition of a ‘foreign’ ideology such as ‘secularism’ has actually made way for more extremist Hindu movements to flourish in modern India. The attractiveness of religion also needs to be situated in the larger context of a certain apathy or dissociation with modernity at large.

While the advancement of Hinduism is one important sacred form that dominates Hindutva, there are other seemingly contradictory sacred forms such as that of ‘secularism’ that also influence the shaping of Hindutva. As Partha Chatterjee (1994) has pointed out, the Hindu Right ‘is perfectly at peace’ with the structures and procedures of the modern state such as secularism. In fact the common refrain that the Hindu nationalists have often come up with is that they are the ‘true secularists’ while the Congress is a ‘pseudo secular’ party.

Finally, one last aspect about the ‘sacred’ that is worthy of mention here is its trait of being a double edged sword. Lynch warns us that while sacred forms ‘provide symbolic and emotional resources’ to people, the irony is that they also make us less able to live without conflict in heterogeneous societies (Lynch 2012:123). Thus identification with sacred forms can also legitimize violence, polarize societies and more importantly, when adopted by political elites become a basis for repressive social orders (Ibid: 136). An analysis of the Hindutva in Karnataka, as in any other context makes this characteristic evident.

1 Christophe Jaffrelot, ‘BJP and the Caste Barrier: Beyond the ‘Twice Born’, The Sangh Parivar Between Sanskritization and Social Engineering’, in Christophe Jaffrelot and Thomas Blom Hansen, (ed.), The BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 22.

2 M.S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts (Bangalore: Jagarana Prakashana, 1980[1966]), p. 224.

3 Chetan Bhatt, Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths (Oxford: Berg, 2001), p. 158.

4 Bharatiya Jana Sangh: Party Documents, Vol. I, Principles and Policies, Manifestos, Constitution (New Delhi: BJS Publications, 1973), p. 48.

5 ‘RSS Karnataka celebrates 75th year of Dr Hedgewar’s visit to Chikkodi of Jan16,1937’, January 15, 2012, Available at http://samvada.org/2012/news/rss-karnataka-celebrates-75th-year-of-dr-hedgewars-visit-to-chikkodi-of-jan161937/ (Accessed on December 26, 2017).

6 ‘Images that Inspires: Life Sketch of Yadav Rao Joshi, The Sangh Pioneer of Karnataka’, July 7, 2014, Available at http://samvada.org/2014/news/images-life-sketch-of-yadav-rao-joshi-sangh-pioneer-of-karnataka/

7 ‘Seva Disha’, Rashtriya Sewa Bharati, New Delhi, 2014.

8 Pramod Mellegatti ,‘Godse accompanied Savarkar to Shimoga in 1944’, September 22, 2004. Available at http://www.thehindu.com/2004/09/22/stories/2004092205650400.htm

9 Ibid.

10 K.N. Venkatasubba Rao, ‘Sangh Parivar has a strong presence’, May 31, 2008, Available at http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/Sangh-Parivar-has-a-strong-presence/article15232324.ece

11 Champat Rai, ‘VHP at a glance’, Hindu Vivek Kendra, Available at http://www.hvk.org/2014/0914/39.html (Accessed on

12 Sudipto Mondal, ‘In Coastal Karnataka, history of communalism is yet to be written’, Hindustan Times, 9 September, 2015.

13 ‘Re-conversion to Hinduism was approved by Acharyas in Udupi in 1964-65’, December 24, 2014, Available at https://bharatabharati.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/re-conversion-to-hinduism-was-approved-by-acharyas-in-udupi-in-1964-65-daijiworld-media/

14 Ibid.

15 Sudipto Mondal, ‘In Coastal Karnataka, history of communalism is yet to be written’, op.cit.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Muzaffar Assadi, Hindutva Policies in Coastal Region: Towards a Social Coalition, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 23, June 2002, pp. 2211-2213.

19 Ullekh NP, ‘Bhatkal and Its Struggle With History And Radical Islam’, April 3, 2015, Open Magazine, Available at https://www.huffingtonpost.in/open-magazine/a-place-called-bhatkal_b_6998512.html (Accessed on 1st March, 2018).

20 K.V. Subramanya, ‘Karnataka ignored report on ISI activities in Bhatkal?’, Karnataka, The Hindu, January 12, 2006.

21 Sudipto Mondal, ‘In Coastal Karnataka, history of communalism is yet to be written’, op.cit.

22 Parvathi Menon, ‘Hindutva At Work: The Spread in the South’, Frontline, Volume 21 - Issue 06, March 13 - March 26, 2004.

23 Chetan Kumar, ‘In South, Karnataka tops in Communal Violence’, The Times of India, 9 October 2015. accessed on 23 February 2016.

24 Rao, Mohit M and Vivek Narayanan, “Communal riot cases second highest in state: NCRB”, Bengaluru The Hindu, 31 August 2016

25 ‘Communalism in Karnataka’ (n.d.) Available at http://altlawforum.org/wiki/communalism-in-karnataka/ (Accessed on December 26, 2017).

26 Chandan Gowda, ‘Many Lohias? Appropriations of Lohia in Karnataka’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 45, No. 40 (OCTOBER 2-8, 2010), p. 82.

27 Asghar Ali Engineer, ‘Bangalore Violence: Linguistic or Communal?, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 44 (Oct. 29, 1994), p. 2855.

28 Express News Service, ‘Karnataka Govt rejects commission report on Church attacks’, The Indian Express, Bengaluru, 17 October 2014.

29 ‘What is the ongoing controversy around Tipu Sultan Jayanti? Here's all you need to know’, India Today, New Delhi, November 12, 2015.

30 Geetanjali Srikantan, ‘The Difficulties of Religious Pluralism in India: Analysing the Place of Worship as a Legal Category in the Ayodhya and Bababudangiri Disputes, Asia Research Institute, Working Paper Series No. 187, July 2012, p. 17.

31 Ibid.

32 Shyam Sundar Vattam, ‘Siddaramaiah, from Ahinda neta to soft Hindutva proponent?’, Deccan Chronicle, December 2, 2017.

33 See for instance Gerald (1972), Jayaprasad (1991), Hansen (1998), Jaffrelot (1996), Kanungo (2003), Sud (2011), Thachil (2011), Bhattacharjee (2016) for an account of the rise of Hindutva in Punjab, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Assam respectively.

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