The once-peaceful state of Karnataka is lurching from one communal controversy to another, the latest being the Nehru-Savarkar row. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s omission from a gallery of freedom fighters in a government advertisement for Independence Day pitchforked Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai into national focus. Yet, he stood his ground in the face of a barrage of Congress protests and blamed Nehru for Partition, fuelling Opposition allegations that he is a chief minister with a majoritarian agenda. After the I-Day spat, and in a sequel to the tit-for-tat killings just weeks ago, clashes are breaking out over idols, ideology and ideologues.
The two controversial figures now being fought over are Tipu Sultan and V D Savarkar—one a Muslim ruler who fought the British, and the other a leader who dreamt of a Hindu nation—both heroes on either side of the ideological divide. The Hindu right is putting up cutouts and posters of Savarkar, with one even finding its way into a Metro station alongside Chandrashekhar Azad and Udham Singh. Opposition parties are denouncing these moves as audacious and provocative, and not surprisingly, fringe elements from both sides are attacking the flexes of Tipu and Savarkar. The districts of Shivamogga and coastal Karnataka are on the boil again.
What is inexplicable is the BJP’s attempt to downsize the image of Pandit Nehru especially on the glorious occasion of India’s 75th-year celebrations. It is also building a narrative of blaming the first prime minister for the historical event of Partition. Right or wrong, the decision on Partition was taken by the leaders of that time in the best interests of the region and was also defended by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. All this and more are expected as Karnataka heads into elections. What is surprising is Bommai’s willingness to follow the majoritarian ideology, perhaps to erase any doubt as to where his commitment lies. Adding to his woes, he is already having to battle blazes on the home front, too—like the audio leak of Law Minister J C Madhu Swamy admitting they are “managing the government, not running it”.