spread Of Hindutwa In The South
By S. Viswanathan,
R. Krishnakumar, Parvathi Menon
30 March, 2004
TAMIL NADU A
today is under the spiritual rule of Jayalalithaa." This is a pious
declaration made by P.C. Ramasami, Minister for Hindu Religious and
Charitable Endowments in the Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government in the State, at Kumbakonam in
Thanjavur district on March 6 after a ritual "holy dip" to
mark the Mahamaham festival. About 10 lakh devotees are estimated to
have taken a dip in the tank of the Kumbeshwara temple, along with "priests
carrying trishuls". The Sankaracharya of the Kanchi mutt, Jayendra
Saraswati, inaugurated the festival, which is described as the "Kumbh
Mela of the South" and is held once in 12 years. Numerous Saivite
and Vaishnavite mutt heads participated in the festival.
Ramasami told mediapersons
that under the Jayalalithaa regime 2,822 temples had been renovated.
The Minister's observations are indicative of not only the government's
priorities, but also the congenial atmosphere in the State for the Sangh
Parivar to exploit the religiosity of the faithful to advance its communal
and political agenda.
The Hindutva forces
were helped by the fact that they had the Bharatiya Janata Party in
power at the Centre and two successive friendly governments in the State,
the first headed by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), an ally of
the BJP until recently, and the second by the AIADMK, an erstwhile ally
of the BJP which is keen to build bridges with the Sangh Parivar. The
Sangh Parivar has been largely successful in its attempt to make the
best of the situation because of the competitive political lines taken
by the DMK and the AIADMK in support of the Hindutva forces in order
to make electoral gain. Political observers criticised the Dravidian
parties' tactical line as a significant deviation from rationalism and
self-respect, the cornerstones of the Dravidian movement founded by
`Periyar' E.V. Ramasami. The Dravidian parties' competitive political
support to the Sangh Parivar gave legitimacy to the actions of the Hindutva
forces and contributed to their growth. Jayalalithaa's AIADMK has been
the more enthusiastic of the two in supporting the Hindutva cause. While
in power the DMK extended only passive support to the Parivar, without
concealing its reservations on issues such as a common civil code and
the construction of a temple in Ayodhya. The AIADMK government has had
no qualms in not only supporting many of its causes but also wresting
the initiative from the Hindutva forces by launching certain legislative
measures that even BJP-led governments in other States did not resort
When, in 2002, the
Jayalalithaa government brought in an Ordinance, later made into a law
with legislative approval, banning "forcible" religious conversions
through "financial allurement" or otherwise, the move drew
protests from many parties, including the DMK, then an ally of the BJP
at the Centre. The anti-conversion law was seen as one more of the many
pro-Hindutva measures taken by the Jayalalithaa government since it
came to power in 2001. These included the provision of substantial financial
assistance to renovate temples, grant of pension to poojaris, and the
`Annadhanam' scheme to feed poor Hindus in temples. The government also
introduced a scheme to conduct spiritual classes in over 150 Hindu temples.
Jayalalithaa also arranged for a mass wedding ceremony for a hundred
Even during her
first term as Chief Minister, in 1991-96, she took several measures
that pleased the Hindutva forces. Apart from renovating temples, she
started Vedic colleges to benefit the priestly class. She brought in
an Ordinance to facilitate government interference in minorities-run
educational institutions, but had to withdraw it amid protests. Her
support to the kar seva at Ayodhya, expressed at a meeting of the National
Integration Council in November 1992, a fortnight before the demolition
of the Babri Masjid is only too well known.
move by her government was the directive to the administration to enforce
strictly the law against animal sacrifice in temples, which had been
in cold storage for five decades (Frontline, October 10, 2003). The
Hindu orthodoxy had for long been demanding a ban on such sacrifices
on the grounds that the practice "polluted" places of worship,
most of which were even denied the status of temples. The government's
move to enforce the Act met with stiff resistance, particularly from
the oppressed people such as Dalits. They claimed that it violated their
constitutional right to worship and sought to interfere with the form
of worship of the disadvantaged sections. The government order was also
challenged in the Madras High Court. The government, however, kept on
justifying its action with the support of the heads of religious mutts
and State BJP leaders. Ultimately, Jayalalithaa was forced to bow to
the people's wish and even annul the Tamil Nadu Animals and Birds Sacrifices
Prohibition Act, 1950.
The State government's
willing cooperation in implementing some of the priority issues on the
Hindutva agenda has helped the Sangh Parivar in the task of consolidation
in the past five years. For instance, Vinayaka Chaturthi processions
organised in Chennai by the Hindutva forces, which had in the first
few years led to violent confrontations with religious minorities, have
spread to other places in the State. Even the activists of the two principal
Dravidian parties are now seen in the Chaturthi processions with their
own Vinayaka idols decorated with party flags. Although their potential
to cause violence has shown a significant fall in recent years, the
processions still cause tension.
Another major step
taken by the Hindu Munnani and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was to
organise non-Brahmin poojaris of village temples and secure governmental
assistance for them. This was done in pursuance of their plan to wrest
control of thousands of village temples, meddle with the existing forms
of worship and ensure the loyalty of lakhs of people in rural areas.
According to A. Sivasubramaniam, a researcher, the idea is to Brahminise
these temples by robbing Dalits and other backward communities of their
natural rights over these places of worship built by their ancestors
mostly in honour of slain heroes.
The VHP claims that
it has built 120 temples in Dalit areas of Tamil Nadu, where "persons
from all communities can worship". It further claims that because
of this action untouchability has been "reduced to a great extent
in these areas". In fact, what Dalits in Tamil Nadu and other States
are demanding is not separate temples, but a reassurance that their
constitutional right to enter the mainstream temples will be honoured.
Dalits in many parts of the State have launched struggles to assert
their right to temple entry, but on no occasion has the VHP or its allies
thought it necessary to intervene on behalf of these helpless people.
In many parts of the State, the Parivar's workers are not sympathetic
to Dalits' struggles against casteist oppression; they often depend
upon leaders of the oppressive castes to carry out their activities.
Education is another
area in which Hindutva forces have made substantial headway in recent
years. In Tamil Nadu about 150 schools are functioning under the guidance
of the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, a Sangh Parivar
organisation that aims at, among other things, evolving "an integrated
system of education in conformity with the aims of Indian culture and
its ideals of life". Of these schools, 24 are Hindu Vidyalayas
run by the VHP. Other schools are under the control of many organisations,
including the Vivekananda Educational Society and the Vivekananda Educational
Trust, both based in Chennai. There has been a substantial increase
in the number of schools run by these institutions during the past five
years. For instance, schools under the Vivekananda Educational Society
increased from 10 in 1998 to 16 in 2003. Last year, the Society added
a residential school run on the "gurukula" model.
Most of these schools,
located in the suburbs of Chennai, cater to middle-class families. Over
17,000 students of the schools run by the Vivekananda Educational Society
are trained in music, dance, yoga, physical exercise and so on. Besides
Hindi, Tamil and English, they are taught Sanskrit as a compulsory fourth
language. In the name of moral instruction they are taught Hindu epics
and the Puranas.
An interesting practice
in these schools is that the applications of the students writing public
examinations are taken to a temple nearby and placed "at the feet"
of the deities, invoking their blessings. All students, irrespective
of their religion, are compelled to participate in this ritual. Teachers
and students are expected to attend camps in the name of "refresher
courses" or "in-house training". At a certain stage,
students are taken to the Vivekananda Kendra in Kanyakumari for a 21-day
camp run on the lines of a `shakha' of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh
(RSS). This camp is believed to serve the purpose of recruiting cadets
for the RSS. All schools have a prayer hall displaying pictures of Hindu
deities. One significant development with regard to the Vidya Bharati
schools in recent years is that they have been increasingly using textbooks
prepared by the National Council of Educational Research and Training
(NCERT), unlike in the past when they used them only for the 10th and
12th standards. This may be because NCERT books have now been doctored
to suit the needs of saffronised education. These schools, with the
assistance of a trained RSS worker, organise thiruvilakku poojas for
women in temples and lend space for holding RSS camps.
In university education,
too, attempts are being made to introduce subjects such as Vedic Astrology
and Vedic Mathematics. However, these face stiff resistance at university
bodies such as the Academic Council, the Senate and the Syndicate. For
instance, when the University Grants Commission's suggestion to start
courses in Vedic Astrology and Vedic Mathematics came up for implementation,
representatives of the Madurai University Teachers Association in the
various university bodies protested against the move and stopped it.
In the University of Madras, an M.A. degree course in Natya (Dance and
Theatre) was sought to be introduced with the blessings of Sangh experts.
At a meeting of the Academic Council, the proposal was opposed on the
grounds that the project had no scientific basis and contained retrograde
features in the name of "incorporating the learning advantages
of the centuries-old guru-sishya parampara along with research and training
methodologies of modern education". The Vice-Chancellor had to
shelve the proposal pending detailed discussion.
There is no doubt
that the increased activities of the Sangh Parivar in recent years portend
dangerous consequences for the communal harmony in the State. However,
these efforts do not seem to have enabled the BJP to expand its political
space in a big way. Its influence does not appear to have spread to
areas other than its traditional strongholds, Kanyakumari and Coimbatore
KERALA - A switch
The supreme confidence,
if not the menace, in the statements was unmistakable, as the leader
of the Marad Arayasamajam, the Sangh Parivar's fishermen's organisation
in the communally volatile Marad village in coastal Kozhikode, introduced
himself to Frontline in his office in October 2003: "I was born
here. I was brought up here. I am a fisherman and have been a member
of the Arayasamajam from the mid-1970s. I have held all the important
positions in the Samajam, except that of the president. I rose through
the Rashtiya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). When my work proved a hindrance
for everyday RSS `shakha' activity, I joined the Bharatiya Janata Party,
a party in which I have held several important local responsibilities.
Now I am the secretary of the Arayasamajam. I have no hesitation in
saying that all members of the Arayasamajam (the entire fishing community
at Marad) are RSS supporters. Nobody sings a different tune here. Our
activities are fully supported by our leadership."
For months on end,
after nine fishermen, eight of them Hindus, were brutally done to death
in a frenzy of communal revenge killings at Marad in May last year (Frontline,
November 7, 2003), T. Suresh, the leader of the small Hindu fishing
community in the village, literally became the face of the Sangh Parivar
in Kerala, making demands, posing threats, rejecting proposals and keeping
the State government machinery on tenterhooks before agreeing to proposals
that eventually launched a peace initiative in the Muslim-majority village
in north Kerala. The Muslim families that fled the village fearing reprisals
have since returned and the tenuous peace holds. The Arayasamajam office
in the village is a veritable fortress secured by Sangh cadre. During
the strife it was the virtual government in the village, where political
parties feared to tread.
leader and the men who surround him perhaps symbolise what the Hindutva
combine is up to in Kerala.
The violence at
Marad in May was a clear indication that the intervention of a large
number of majority as well as minority communal organisations had started
showing its ugly results in Kerala. The leader of the Hindu fishermen
in Marad was a symbol of a growing body of men and women in Kerala who
"bore the same vision and the same dream and moved forward as one"
in their belief that a "Hindu Kerala is not a myth", that
each one of them has to "take such a glorious vision to heart"
to bring to reality a Kerala that will become a "laboratory for
the Hindu way of life and vision, if not immediately, soon, in future".
Recently, the Sangh
Parivar announced an ambitious target for such men and women: of spreading
the activities of the Parivar to all regions in the State by 2006, the
birth centenary year of RSS leader Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. The focus
of its recent activities has been on extending its influence among all
sections of Hindus, especially Dalits, fisherfolk and Adivasis, and
gaining acceptance in the State through persistent socio-cultural interventions
(Frontline, December 2, 2002 and February 28, 2003).
In Kerala, the RSS-led
growth of the Sangh Parivar has overshadowed the activities of its political
arm, the BJP, especially in the years since the demolition of the Babri
Masjid. The number of RSS `shakhas' has increased from 4,300 in 2001
to 4,800. Its organisers claim that the `Sangh' is active in all the
14 districts of the State, the weakest links being the Christian belt
of the high-range Idukki and Wayanad districts and the predominantly
Muslim areas of north Kerala. According to RSS activists, over 10,000
locations have been "identified" for active work and in 1,329
of them daily drills and discussions take place for an hour each in
the morning, evening and night.
The Vishwa Hindu
Parishad (VHP), too, has established its organisational network in all
parts of the State, resorting to emotive actions such as the distribution
of tridents and the controversial construction of a temple within the
Idukki dam area. More important, a myriad RSS-backed socio-cultural
organisations promoting communal ideas in the field of education, literature,
theatre, science and arts and actively involved in the renovation and
protection of temples have made a visible presence in the State within
a short period.
The Kshetra Samrakshana
Samiti, a Parivar unit with the declared aim of "building a temple-based
organised society" and a "temple-based way of life",
actively promotes the renovation of small family temples dotting the
State and has gained control of the management of the day-to-day affairs
and conduct of festivals of a number of big ones. `Balagokulam', a mass
organisation for children with over 1,300 units in the State, organises
the high-visibility "Srikrishna Jayanti rally and celebrations"
in various cities and towns every year. Thousands of children participate
in the event. In addition, it runs Balasamskara Kendras (children's
cultural centres) at five centres; `Sowrakshika', an organisation for
the protection of children's rights; Mayilpeeli, a magazine; and `Amrita
Bharati Vidya Peetom', a centre for the promotion of Sanskrit and Hindu
a membership of over 26,000 children, who attend weekly catch-them-young
classes. The aim is to groom them as leadership material for other Hindutva
activities. As part of its 30th anniversary, Balagokulam has announced
the establishment of an `International Sri Krishna Centre' in Kerala,
to be developed as a Sri Krishna pilgrimage centre in the State.
The Bharatiya Vichara
Kendra, an intellectual forum for debate with political opponents, was
established in Kerala in 1982 after a sudden spurt in RSS activity following
frequent clashes between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and
RSS activists in north Kerala. It has more than 30 units in the State
and brings out a magazine. Among other activities, it conducts Gita,
Yoga and Sanskrit classes.
Perhaps the most
prominent and effective Sangh Parivar organisation is the one that is
involved in education, the Bharatiya Vidya Niketan. It runs about 375
schools in all the districts with no government support and purely on
the initiative of the local Parivar cadre. Fifteen schools, the majority
of them in districts that have a sizable Muslim or Christian population,
follow the syllabi of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE),
with English as the medium of instruction. The rest follow the State
syllabus. Teachers are required to undergo special training under a
five-point programme, which includes physical education, Sanskrit, yoga,
value education and art and culture, all meant to acquaint them, and
eventually their pupils, "with the Hindu way of life". Key
organisers in such schools are from the RSS, even though the organisation
does not have any direct involvement in its running.
In addition to Janmabhoomi,
a daily newspaper, and Kesari, a weekly, the Parivar has 10 regular
publications in the State. The Swadesi Science Movement, which has as
its declared objective the development of an "Indian approach to
science" (it recently organised an international conference on
Ayurveda), and `Tapasya', an organisation promoting art and culture,
are also prominent Sangh Parivar "recruitment agencies".
In the past few
years, the Hindutva combine's voluntary activity has had a new focus:
the tribal and coastal areas of Kerala. Providing free medical aid and
education and running informal, single-teacher schools for tribal children
are some of the activities it undertakes there. A 33-bed hospital at
Kalpetta in the predominantly tribal Wayanad district, for example,
offers free food, medicines, in-patient facitlity and diagnostic services
to the tribal people. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has established its
units in 52 tribal areas of the State and is now engaged in meeting
the "challenge" of Christian missionary activity in those
areas, offering competitive healthcare and educational facilities.
Early last year,
the attack on an American missionary, Joseph William Cooper, in Thiruvananthapuram,
almost coincided with the two-day `Vanavasi Sangamom' organised by the
Sangh Parivar at Mananthavadi in Wayanad district, to promote the all-India
game plan of "Hinduising" tribal people. The high-profile
conference, attended by top Sangh Parivar leaders, was itself preceded
by events orchestrated by the VHP and other Hindutva organisations to
"celebrate the reconversion of (a few) Adivasis to Hinduism".
The Matsya Pravartaka Sanghom, another RSS family unit, recently started
a mobilisation initiative, organising `Sagara poojas' (worshipping the
sea) and Hindu maha sammelans at select centres in the coastal areas
and near freshwater lakes.
This is but an example
of the vast infrastructure the RSS-led Hindutva organisations have established
in Kerala, which it considers a sunrise region for interventions tailored
to bring about a fundamentalist shift in the thinking of Hindus. But
the Hindu community, whose loyalties are divided among various political
parties and coalitions, castes and caste-based political groups, has
so far given no indications of helping the Parivar realise its dream.
For three days from
January 24, the RSS held a "Pranteeya Karyakarthru Sibiram"
in Kollam, its first in 25 years in Kerala, where the Hindutva vision
and dreams were reiterated. Nearly 16,000 delegates, ranging from leaders
of 4,800 shakhas in Kerala to the top leadership including Sarsanghchalak
K.S. Sudarshan, participated in it. The address to the delegates of
the conference by P. Parameswaran, director of the Bharatiya Vichara
Kendra, was a clear exposition of the Sangh Parivar's vision of the
challenges it faced in Kerala and its long-term prospects in the State.
The following are certain significant excerpts from his speech:
1.Compared to other
States, Kerala has a "substantial population of Muslims, organised
Christian missionary activity and support for deep-rooted, `anti-national'
Communist way of thinking". The State's Hindu population came down
in a decade from 57 per cent to 55 per cent, while the Muslim and Christian
populations increased to 23.34 per cent and 19.32 per cent. "Even
while we take pride in the fact that Hindus form 55 per cent of the
population, we should not forget that the `other side' is 45 per cent.
Even though Hindus are described as the majority, they should remember
that they are neither organised nor strong. That is why they do not
have influence or participation in any sector in the State."
of united Kerala (from the erstwhile Malabar, Cochin and Travancore
regions) "had also created an imbalance in terms of population",
along with changes in the structure of government and politics of the
State. (From then on) Hindu society lost the position and influence
it had before. It lost its predominant position in the economy, politics
and the educational sector in the State. "Other sections"
came to prominence. "Minority community organisations transformed
themselves into political parties. An organisation that was once described
as a "dead horse" (the Muslim League) increased its number
of seats, its position and influence. It gained the strength to shake
Kerala to the core. It threw ordinary laws to the winds. The result
was that along with their pre-eminence in the politics of the State,
they gained in the fields of education, industries as well as economically.
Land came under their control. The state of Hindus became pathetic.
They did not get even the benefits due to 55 per cent of the peopulation."
3.Though the RSS
has grown in strength in Kerala with its extremely complex social climate,
it is unable yet to put the stamp of Hindutva in all walks of life,
even though "anti-Hindu, anti-national" forces remain strong
but divided among themselves. It is unable yet to spread the message
of Hindutva among such forces that continue to fight among themselves.
of the Sangh Parivar is not to create a Hindu organisation, but the
strengthening of Hindu society... to have its influence in all fields
of life, including the economy and education. Its aim is to bring about
a social transformation by organising Hindus in all walks of society
and grow as an organisation of Hindu society.
5.The Parivar finds
it encouraging that the Hindu revivalism taking place all over India
"is finding its echo in Kerala too"; that "people who
once sabotaged such efforts were seeing them with respect now";
that "a new spiritual climate" is developing in the State;
that the number of `spiritual gurus' is growing in Kerala ; that the
number of believers too is growing; and that "the various religious
and cultural activities it organised in the hundreds of temples in the
State are being widely welcomed. It believes in cooperating with the
spiritual revival efforts controlled by organisations that have no link
with the Parivar. "Ours is not an isolated stream, but a huge Ganga
that accepts all such efforts."
6.The Sangh Parivar
believes that the present climate is ideal for its growth in Kerala.
It believed that the people are waiting eagerly to accept the Hindutva
message. Critics have disappeared and the sound of criticism has vanished.
"Kerala today has two political coalitions which are bereft of
ideas and are ideologically in a state of vacuum and need not be a hindrance
for the Sangh Parivar's activities."
are the clearest exposition yet of the concerns, goals and strategies
of the RSS in relation to Kerala from its own leaders. Clearly, it is
because its political goal often seemed so elusive in Kerala that the
Hindutva combine had, ever since the 1990s, subtly shifted its fight
onto a new battlefield - that of winning the hearts and minds of Hindus
through non-political, religious and socio-cultural mediation, using
a vast network of organisations. It is a platform where it finds itself
left to its own winning deeds by secular formations, including the Left
parties and the Congress(I).
as political players
What will be the
likely role of the mutts in Karnataka in determining the outcome of
the elections in the State? Though defined legally as a religious establishment
headed by a pontiff, the mutt plays a role that extends well beyond
the purely religious. The mutts in Karnataka are sharply divided along
caste and sectarian lines. They have emerged as major and not-to-be-ignored
political players in the present milieu, offering direct or indirect
support to political parties and candidates.
The Madhwa mutts
in the coastal belt have been vehicles for the spread of Hindutva, both
as an ideology and as an electoral force. There are eight Madhwa mutts,
which are the joint custodians of the Krishna temple in Udupi - the
Palimar, Adamar, Krishnapur, Puttige, Shirur, Sode, Kaniyur and Pejavar
mutts. The reigning pontiffs of the mutts conduct worship at the Udupi
temple by a system of rotation. The two most prominent mutts that have
long been the standard-bearers of the Hindutva cause are the Pejavar
and Adamar mutts. The pontiff of the Pejavar mutt, Sri Vishwesa Tirtha
Swamiji, is a founder-member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and
has been associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement from its inception.
He was present in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992
and is a prominent figure on all Sangh Parivar platforms both in Karnataka
and elsewhere in the country.
Speaking to Frontline
from Udupi, the octogenarian head of the Pejavar mutt said he actively
propagated the message of Hindutva and spread the aims of the Ayodhya
movement by addressing meetings, rallies and samaveshas (mass meetings).
"I speak about it and answer questions. If there is any wrong writing
on these issues in newspapers, I reply immediately. I know from the
reactions at my meetings that the message has spread very well in Karnataka."
As a margadarshi for the VHP, he had ensured that his mutt worked with
the VHP on many activities, he said, although the mutt also worked through
its own organisations, particularly in providing education and healthcare
in tribal areas and inaccessible hilly regions.
The Pejavar mutt,
in particular, has given active patronage to the samavesha, which has,
in recent months, become the most popular method of Hindu mass mobilisation
in the coastal belt. Following the Gujarat riots, the samavesha has
become a frequent event, spreading now from the cities to small towns
and villages of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts. "The town
or village is first covered with plastic saffron flags of the VHP. The
meeting is usually held near a minority-dominated area. Leaders of the
VHP, like Pravin Togadia, spit fire and venom in their speeches, which
threaten the minorities and exhort Hindus to build a Hindu Rashtra,"
said H. Pattabhirama Somayaji, Professor of English at University College,
Mangalore. "Mutt leaders like the Pejavar Swamiji are frequent
speakers at these meetings. In fact, in the last 10 years the mutts
have become the standard bearers of Hindutva rather than formal political
parties. Political leaders depend more and more upon the Swamijis to
get their message across."
With the emergence
of the mutts as the rallying points for Hindutva in this region, the
distinction between the religious and the political as different spheres
of public activity has all but disappeared. "Most religious functions
have been saffronised," said Somayaji. Take paryaya, a ceremony
held every two years to mark the passing on of the authority to conduct
worship in the Krishna temple amongst the pontiffs of the eight Madhwa
mutts. From a ceremony confined to a sect of Madhwa Brahmins in Karnataka,
paryaya has virtually become a State-level function for all Hindus and
a major expression of the power and prestige of the mutt concerned.
This year's paryaya ceremony was attended by a galaxy of persons prominent
in public life in the State. Even the myriad `little traditions' of
Hinduism, like the Bhootakulas - a popular form of spirit worship practised
in the villages of Dakshina Kannada district by members of the lower
castes - have been permeated by the colour, sound, speech and symbolism
of Hindutva, said Somayaji.
"I have lived
here for the past 50 years and was saddened to see the Udupi Krishna
temple founded 7,000 years ago by the great Madhwacharya, flying the
flag of the VHP," said G. Rajashekhar, an employee of the Life
Insurance Corporation of India and an active member of the Souharda
Vedike, an organisation that has been fighting communalism. According
to him, the Pejavar Swamiji welcomed and blessed Pravin Togadia at a
mammoth samajotsava held recently in Udupi. The banners at the rally
glorified Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and Togadia and hailed
Dara Singh, the murderer of the Australian missionary Graham Stains
and his two sons, as the "saviour of Hinduism". "We protested
to the District Commissioner, after which Dara Singh's name was removed
from the banners," said Rajashekhar. "The Pejavar Swamiji
says he condemns the violence in Gujarat. Why does he then continue
to patronise Hindutva outfits that supported it?"
The Pejavar Swamiji
told Frontline that though he might share a platform with Modi or Togadia,
he did not hesitate to disagree with them publicly on some issues. "I
argue with them and oppose them whether it is the Gujarat violence or
the issue of war with Pakistan which Togadia supports and I oppose,
or with Giriraj Kishore Acharya who recently said that the life of a
cow was more precious than the life of a Dalit. I opposed them on all
these issues," he said.
Although until very
recently each Madhwa mutt had its own location of caste influence, in
recent years the mutts have tried to propagate Hindutva across the caste
divide. Mahatma Gandhi refused to enter the Krishna temple on a visit
to Udupi in the 1930s because untouchability was practised there. Today,
however, the mutts realise that for Hindutva to have any relevance for
the lower-caste segments of the population, it has necessarily to be
given political articulation and distanced, at least in its rhetoric,
from Brahminism. The mutts realise that they cannot do this on their
own and must associate themselves with the political outfits of the
Sangh Parivar, which use the samaveshas as fora to make the call for
the unification of Hindu society.
One of Hinduism's
attributes was its sanction for a plurality of forms of religious practice.
This non-threatening and accommodative element of Hinduism is being
erased systematically by the votaries of Hindutva. Today, economically
vulnerable castes like fisherfolk, weavers, carpenters, barbers, cobblers
and potters are being drawn into the ambit of a militant Hindutva worldview.
"It is clear from the attendance at their rallies that the appeal
of the Hindutva parties is no longer to elitist Hindus but to Hindu
society at large," says Rajashekhar. Here too it is the Pejavar
mutt that has shown the way. Its pontiff has considerable influence
with leaders both at the Centre and in the State.
An influence far
greater than that of the Brahmin mutts is exerted by the Veerashaiva
or Lingayat mutts on social and political life in Karnataka. Veerashaivism
grew out of a revolutionary 12th century reform movement started by
Basava against the stranglehold of Brahminism on religion and society.
Lingayats, or the followers of Basava, are converts from various castes,
and all castes have their Lingayat converts.
The mutt became
the functional nucleus of Basava's philosophy where religion met its
social purpose of providing free education and food to all sections
of the social order regardless of caste. Veerashaiva mutts, which spread
and consolidated themselves in the last decades of the 19th century
and in early 20th century, grew with state patronage after Independence.
Today, many Veerashaiva mutts are powerful commercial entities that
run hundreds of educational institutions. They also control bulk votes
and are therefore sought after by political parties.
mutts have, by and large, resisted the growth of Hindutva in Karnataka
as their founding philosophy is anti-Brahminical," said K. Marulasiddappa,
a well-known Kannada writer and literary critic. On the other hand,
the need for state patronage and cordial relations with the party in
power exerts a contrary pull on them, which is why some Veerashaiva
pontiffs have been less outspoken than others against the politics of
the Sangh Parivar. Some of the major Veerashaiva mutts, like the Tumkur
Siddaganga mutt, the Mysore Suttur mutt, the Chitradurga Sirigere mutt,
the Sanehalli mutt and the Nidumamidi mutts and Belimath in Bangalore,
the Gadag mutt and the Muragha mutt in Chitradurga, have not endorsed
the politics of Hindutva. Some of the pontiffs of these mutts have actively
opposed it. "However, the hard fact is that it is caste, and not
politics, that eventually determines which party or candidate a particular
mutt supports," said Marulasiddappa.
Hindutva is the new face of Brahminism, which the vaidika mutts are
spreading," Sri Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swamiji of the Nidumamidi
mutt told Frontline. "While on the one hand they say that Hindu
society is one, they embrace casteism, patriarchy and untouchability.
They are using Dalits and Sudras for vote bank purposes."
Scoffing at the
samaveshas organised by the Sangh Parivar, where "ready-made crowds
comprising VHP, RSS and Sangh Parivar activists" are ferried, the
Swamiji, who is a frequent speaker on anti-communal platforms, believes
that a majority in all religions are peace-loving and will defeat the
designs of the communal forces.
believe in casteless, classless, secular principles," the pontiff
of the Gadag mutt, Sri Jagadguru Tontada Siddalinga Mahaswamiji, told
Frontline. The Swamiji was a recipient of Communal Harmony Award 2001,
instituted by the Government of India. "Lingayatism differs radically
from Hinduism. We are naturally against the Hindutva concept and oppose
its onslaught against the people at large. On the other hand, the Vedic
mutts, which are Hindu mutts, support the Sangh Parivar and indirectly
the BJP," he said.
Veerashaiva mutt heads were associated with the founding of the VHP
at its first Dharma Sansad in 1984, according to Sri Shivarudra Mahaswamy,
the pontiff of the Belimath Maha Sansthana in Bangalore. "At that
time, the VHP focussed on social reform within Hinduism, which we supported.
It was only after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement started that these swamijis
became disenchanted and left," he told Frontline. The Swamiji himself
stayed on in the VHP. He was present in Ayodhya during the destruction
of the Babri Masjid ("none of us knew this would happen,"
he claims) and slowly began distancing himself from the Sangh Parivar
after that. "The final break with the VHP for me came with Gujarat.
I was the only Lingayat swamiji who participated in all their functions,
but after Gujarat I left out of conviction. They think they are building
a Hindu society - they are only building hell," he said. Although
wary of the BJP, the Veerashaiva mutts are likely to support Lingayat
candidates if they are fielded by the party. The electoral outcome,
particularly in north Karnataka, will be influenced strongly by the
way Lingayats vote.
The only religious
caste leader of the Vokkaligas is the Swamiji of the Adichunchungiri
mutt, a powerful establishment with assets running into crores of rupees.
The Swamiji is as much of a political figure as a religious one and
is known to be close to the ruling Congress(I), although he also accepts
invitations to speak on Sangh Parivar platforms. At a recent samavesha
in Bangalore, the Swamiji is reported to have said that just as Muslims
and Christians have their own countries, Hindus need theirs. He later
retracted the statement, claiming that he had been misquoted.
With his sizable
wealth and vote base, the swamiji is much-sought-after by political
parties. Except on the coast, where the BJP will have the backing of
a sizable section of the mutts, in the rest of the State the major non-Brahmin
mutts appear to be tilting towards either the Congress(I) or the Janata
Dal(S). This will certainly have an impact on the electoral chances
of the BJP in this region.