Political Pulse: In Karnataka textbook controversy Congress finds leverage to battle BJP on Hindutva agenda

The opposition Congress party in Karnataka which has been continuously rattled and on the backfoot in addressing the divisive Hindutva political agenda unleashed through various organs of the Sangh Parivar has found a handle to take on the BJP and the RSS in a controversy over saffronisation of school textbooks by a committee constituted by the BJP government.

Over the last few weeks, as textbooks tailored by a review committee headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha, a teacher with right-wing associations have emerged in the public domain it has unleashed a torrent of protests over the presentation of the contributions of historical figures and writers not in synch with the right-wing Hindutva ideology of the Sangh Parivar.

While the early concerns in revisions prescribed by the textbook committee were over the chopping of portions of lessons on the Muslim king, Tipu Sultan, the emergence of the final textbooks for Kannada and social sciences has resulted in a plethora of grouses cutting across communities over revisions done under the guardianship of the BJP government.

While progressive thinkers and writers – who have deep roots in the society in Karnataka – have objected to the chopping of works of distinguished writers like P Lankesh, Sara Abu Backer, AN Murthy Rao and the inclusion of work by Hindutva flag bearers like the RSS founder RB Hedgewar, an ideologue Chakravarthy Sulibele, Sanskrit scholars Bannanje Govindacharya and Shathavadhani Ganesh – the political singe has come from the tinkering with lessons on caste and community icons like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Lingayat saint Basavanna.

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The fact that the chairman of the textbook committee had apparently insulted the state poet Kuvempu, and the state anthem written by him, in social media posts in the past did not go down well with the dominant Vokkaliga caste group as well.

The state BJP which has been basking in the success of religious polarization tactics engineered through provocations by its allied outfits on issues like the wearing of Hijabs by girl students in educational institutions in coastal Karnataka, an unwritten ban on Muslim vendors at temple festivals, and finding temples under mosques has been forced on the backfoot by a strident attack by the opposition Congress on the saffronisation of textbooks.

The textbook issue has now opened up fissures that exist in the caste-based society which the BJP has been attempting to paper over with its Hindutva agenda – even while working at consolidating the support of caste groups through tactical ground level alliances.

The former Congress chief minister and leader of the opposition in the state legislature, Siddaramaiah, who has roots in social and progressive movements in Karnataka like farmer agitations, has been the loudest in calling out the right-wing agenda in the school textbooks.

A Lingayat seer, a Vokkaliga seer, and Congress party leader Priyank Kharge, a Dalit, have all voiced concerns over different aspects of revisions in the school textbooks. The role of the RSS itself in the Indian policy has been called into question in the textbook controversy.

“Is the RSS native to India? We have been quiet and do not want to unnecessarily discuss it. Are Aryans from this country? Are they Dravidians? We have to look at their origins,” the former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said with reference to the inclusion of a speech by the RSS founder KB Hedgewar in the school textbooks for the current academic year.

“We are the original inhabitants of this land. The scheduled castes are the original inhabitants of this land, the backward communities are the original inhabitants of this land. All Shudras are the original inhabitants of this land,” the former CM said while suggesting that the Hindutva propagated by the RSS and the right-wing is not native to the country.

“Were changed affected to lessons on Basavanna and Babasaheb because they rebelled against the Hindu religion? Were they insulted for this reason? Have Narayana Guru, Periyar, and Kuvempu been neglected because they reformed the Hindu dharma?” Siddaramaiah asked, in a series of questions on social media for school education minister BC Nagesh.

The imposition of right-wing values ​​in the revised school textbooks is being seen in opposition circles as an effort to impose the RSS doctrine and thought in the state.

“There is a strong historical awareness and opposition to Manuvadi knowledge in states like Karnataka. Local cultural values ​​and heritage are strong in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, and Maharashtra and there is resistance to the BJP-RSS ideology within the society. The textbook issue has opened a pandora’s box in Karnataka,” a Congress leader said.

The Congress party will be looking at exploiting the textbook controversy to counter the BJP’s polarisation agenda, the Congress leader said. “There is thinking on highlighting efforts to impose Hindutva as being part of an agenda at wiping out local culture and heritage in other southern states as well,” the Congress leader said.

“The stand taken by Babasaheb Ambedkar regarding Hindutva and the caste system has been removed. Why is it? Why has the phrase which stated that Dr. Ambedkar was the architect of the constitution been removed?” Congress leader Priyank Kharge said about the controversy.

“The committee should have reviewed textbooks based on the inputs of academic experts. Changes have been made based on caste equations and party politics. The revised textbook is showing a misrepresented story of Basavanna’s propagation of Lingayatism and hiding the real facts,” the Lingayat seer Sri Panditaradya Shivacharya Swami, the head of the Sanehalli Math, said in a letter to Chief Minister Bommai last week.

“The textbook says ‘scholars have introduced reforms to the Veerashaiva caste. It should have been ‘scholars introduced Lingayat dharma into the society. There are several changes like these that have reflected very poorly on the Lingayat community,” the seer said.

The BJP has countered the attacks launched on the RSS by the Congress over the textbook controversy but in a sign that it is concerned over the political repercussions has decided to disband the controversial committee and revise portions relating to Dr. Ambedkar and Basavanna in the new school textbooks.

The government has also indicated a probe into alleged disrespect caused to the state poet Kuvempu through social media posts linked to the textbook committee head.

“The RSS lights the flame of patriotism in the country. It believes in building the nation through strong individuals. It gives prominence to patriotism. RSS is involved in creating patriots and it is not a political party. It is a service organization, a national organization,” the state BJP chief Nalin Kumar Kateel said in response to questions raised by the Congress party.

“Nehru himself ventured to ban the RSS and he burnt his hands. Indira Gandhi tried during the emergency and burnt her hands. This time the Congress will burn its hands and the Congress will be reduced to ashes in the fire,” the state BJP chief said.

“The Congress is indulging in a slander campaign against RSS”. But people know everything about the RSS,” said Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.

“RSS is a patriotic, nationalist organization engaged in social service. RSS are at the forefront of rescuing people during calamities and serving the affected people. RSS has done commendable work in many states. The Congress party and Siddaramaiah are known to be RSS baiters. Congress has lost its base in many states due to this stand,” Bommai said.

The Congress party has now demanded that the textbooks revised by the BJP government must be scrapped entirely and that a textbook brought out during the Congress tenure in 2017 must be re-introduced.

The state education minister BC Nagesh has claimed that the previous textbook committee was headed by a well-known Kannada writer Baragur Ramachandrappa introduced communist doctrine into the school textbooks.

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