Karnataka Rakshana Vedike vs BJP: A Saffron Spat Over Farm Laws
In a storm in the teacup, a Karnataka Right-wing organisation is on war path with the BJP over farmers’ protests.
Their yellow and red stripped flags aflutter, members of a Kannada cultural outfit organised a Chakka Jam in support of the farmers’ protest on 6 February. Unlike the left leaning farmers’ unions which had blocked roads across the state, the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike’s (KRV) protests had a marked difference.
Here was a militant Kannada nationalist organisation, a fervent member of the political right-wing in India, splitting with its elder cousin, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which dominates the national right-wing spectrum. Even more embarrassing since the BJP, which promulgated the new farm laws in Delhi, is also in power in Karnataka.
Is the KRV's breaking of ranks with the BJP just a storm in the teacup? Possibly not. A key reason being that KRV has more than 60 lakh members in Karnataka.
Why did KRV part ways with the BJP even though the two have shared an amicable relationship in the past?
Indicating a deep political rift on ideological grounds, Narayana Gowda, the president of KRV told The Quint, “The BJP government in Karnataka is slave to its party high command. Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa lacks political power now”. While delving into the rift The Quint has found that KRV holds onto federalism in a fashion similar to that adopted by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
Militantly Kannada nationalistic, KRV weighs the support of Karnataka farmers over its good relations with CM BS Yediyurappa. As a result KRV has put out a series of protests in support of farmers’ rights over their land, produce and markets.
Karnataka’s Rights vs Central Policy
KRV was founded in 1999 by Narayana Gowda and its motto is Protect Kannada, Karnataka and Kannadigas. Broadly, the organisation has centred its work on linguistic nationalism which focuses on the Kannada language and culture, Karnataka’s boundary disputes with neighbouring states including Maharasthra, and employment and education reservations for Kannadigas or the people of Karnataka in state government institutions.
More recently, KRV has been fighting for linguistic consumer rights of the Kannada speaking public, claiming that the consumer rights of those who know only Kannada are violated when product packaging and manual instructions are only in English or Hindi.
In 2017, KRV got the Bangalore Metro authorities to scrap Hindi from its signages by mooting a campaign that said ‘Namma Metro Hindi Beda’ , that means ‘Don’t want Hindi in our Metro’. In November 2020 the organisation pushed another twitter trend - #NammaDhwaja_NammaHemme - meant to highlight the state government’s reluctance to use Karnataka’s state flag in government functions.
In December 2020, while Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa was trying to woo his party men who were flustered over MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal’s open defiance of his leadership, KRV launched an attack on the state’s BJP from the fringes. On 8 December, the organisation joined the farmers’ Bharat Bandh and extended unconditional solidarity to Karnataka's farmers. At the time, the state’s farmers were also fighting the state government’s farm law which allowed non-farmers to own agricultural land in the state.
Speaking to The Quint, Narayana Gowda said, “It is a historic movement that is taking place in Delhi…agriculture is a state subject as per the constitution of India. The federal government does not have the power to make farm laws. The federal government is unconstitutionally snatching away the powers of the state”.
The federal twist, however, is only the tip of the iceberg say those who have been observing the rise of Gowda's KRV.
KRV's Anti-Hindi Rhetoric Rising
Karnataka Rakshana Vedike which mostly had the support of local businessmen and farmers till 2010, has recently attracted some unlikely supporters — a growing number of software engineers from Bengaluru who support KRV's stress on federalism.
As a result KRV seems to have taken a break from linguistic clashes with Dravidian languages including Tamil and Telugu, and is now directing its opposition mainly against Hindi. In 2020, the organisation held a meeting on Campaign for Language Equality and Rights, in which representatives of other Dravidian languages and Urdu were also present. The group opposed the imposition of Hindi in the southern states.
“The states have the right to decide their internal matters especially when it comes to health and agriculture. As we believe in the federal structure we support the farmers’ cause. Farmers in each of the states have different problems and a law imposed by the Union government will not serve all. Karnataka farmers’ plight is unique,” said Arun Javgal, a software engineer who is now a member of KRV.
Why fight the BJP on this? “The BJP does not work for the Kannada people anymore. They are too dependent on the leaders in Delhi,” Javgal said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are not very popular in KRV circles because they hold them responsible for “furthering BJP’s nation-level political prospects at the cost of the states”.
What about the unity of right-wing forces? A KRV leader said, “We are similar to the Shiv Sena which fought for the rights of Maharashtra Manush (people) even while being on the right of the political spectrum. In the past KRV leaders have shared the stage with BJP leaders including Yediyurappa even as they broke bread with H D Deve Gowda of Janata Dal (Secular).
Going the Shiv Sena Way?
Does the Shiv Sena model of sharing power help a right-wing cultural entity like KRV, which does not have Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) roots?
According to political scientists, a fault line ripped through Karnataka’s right-wing space when Hindi inscriptions came up on the Bengaluru Metro rail. Many accused the BJP of being insensitive to regional sentiments. It is this schism within the right-wing which seems to be the driving force for organisations like KRV, experts say.
Just as Shiv Sena split from the BJP over sharing power in Maharashtra, despite their right-wing affiliation, organisations like KRV too could be looking at alternative alliances.
JD(S)’ H D Kumaraswamy for instance, has been supporting the Kannada language cause as it seems be striking a chord with people’s linguistic sentiments in the state. Kannada was ignored at the Aero India show held in Bengaluru on 3 February, Kumaraswamy has alleged, in a recent public statement. KRV, however, had called out the JD(S) over its covert support for the new farm laws.
Could the Congress be an ally for KRV? It is a possibility, especially with both parties working together in organising a rising number of farmers protests across the state.
Narayana Gowda told The Quint, “If the government does not take back the cruel agricultural acts, the protests in Bengaluru will have to start in the same manner as the Delhi protests. Karnataka Rakshana Vedike will hold a large rally of about 50,000 people in association with farmer organisations and people’s organisations next week”.
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