Mysuru Temple Demolition: Why is Karnataka CM Bommai Facing Right-Wing Heat?
On 11 September, Basavaraj Bommai government demolished a temple at Nanjangud taluk of Mysuru district.
Less than two months after he assumed charge as Karnataka Chief Minister, Basavaraj Bommai is faced with stiff opposition from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s core vote base – right-wing outfits of Karnataka. Reason, a demolition drive the Bommai government had undertaken in September, based on a 12-year-old Supreme Court order.
The Supreme Court had directed all state governments to demolish religious structures that are illegally constructed in public places. On 7 September, Karnataka High Court ordered the state government to implement the Supreme Court order which was passed in 2009.
While the state government started the demolition drive, on 20 September, it buckled under pressure and tabled Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Bill-2021. The legislation is expected to protect religious structures from the SC order.
Why is the Hindu-Right Angry with Bommai?
On 11 September, authorities demolished a temple at Nanjangud taluk of Mysuru district to comply by the SC order. The move stirred a hornet’s nest as pro-Hindutva organisations and a section of elected BJP representatives started protests against the Bommai government.
BJP legislators of Mysuru city and the Mysuru-Kodugu Lok Sabha MP Pratap Simha were among those who opposed the demolition. Simha in fact, uploaded photographs of the demolished Adishakti Mahadevamma temple in Huchchagani, Nanjangud on his social media handles to pique the interest of his followers.
Rattled by opposition from the Sangh Parivar, Bommai called a halt to all demolitions of religious illegal structures that were underway.
However, there was more embarrassment in store for him, with former Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa and Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje rallying against temple demolition. The Congress too chipped in, with Opposition leader Siddaramaiah stating, “The demolition was done without the consent of people in the region and it has hurt religious sentiments. An alternate site should have been provided, if the demolition was deemed necessary. The state government is responsible for this act."
The Most Vocal Critics
The last one week has seen a spate of protests by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Jagaran Vedike, and the Hindu Mahasabha among other outfits. The most vocal has been the Hindu Mahasabha, with its state unit secretary Dharmendra Suratkal issuing an inflammatory speech in Mangaluru on 18 September. As per the speech, the ruling BJP has “backstabbed” people by demolishing temples. Suratkal also threatened Bommai, former CM B S Yediyurappa and others of dire consequences saying, "Even Mahatma Gandhi was not spared in a bid to protect the Hindus.''
An FIR was lodged by a faction of the Hindu Mahasabha against Suratkal, accusing him of misusing the organisation's name.
Rakesh Bhat, convenor of pro-Hindu Organisations, said the temples were constructed even before laws were framed to define whether they were legal or illegal structures. Therefore, they cannot be documented by revenue, archaeology or endowment departments, he said. He added, “We have set a deadline of 26 September for the government to come out with a policy on how it will protect temples which have not been documented.”
Karnataka Bajrang Dal Convenor Raghu Saklespur asked, “When the Congress and JD(S) governments did not indulge in bringing down religious structures, why is the BJP keen on it?”
He added, “This attitude of the BJP has pained the workers and will definitely resonate in the upcoming urban bodies and panchayats elections.”
Saklespur maintained that over the years the BJP has deviated from the ideology that was laid by party ideologues L K Advani and A B Vajpayee. The Sangh Parivar is being marginalised in Karnataka even though it did more work during the pandemic than the state government. "We took up work conducting the last rites of COVID patients in Sringeri and Koppa, which has gone unnoticed,'' he said.
Meanwhile, Simha opposing the Nanjangud incident has not gone down well in BJP circles.
Two Mysuru BJP MLAs – S A Ramadasa, representing Krishnaraja and B Harshavardhan, Nanjangud legislator – have slammed Simha for his stand on the demolition. Harshavardhan even said that Simha was “creating nuisance” in his constituency. A RSS functionary said Simha’s protest does not make any impact as he was not aware of what was happening in his Lok Sabha constituency. “Simha diluted the issue by giving it a communal colour by questioning why mosques and churches were spared and only temples demolished. His focus should have been on how to salvage ancient temples and not indulge in vote-catching tactics,'' the RSS functionary said.
BJP Starts Damage Control Exercise
The cabinet meeting on Monday, 20 September, approved the legislation to protect religious structures including temples, churches, mosques, gurdwaras and bodh vihars, among others. However, the Bill adds that no religious structure will enjoy protection "if any case relating to their removal is pending in any court of law and in such other circumstances as may be prescribed.''
The Bill is applicable retrospectively. “It is considered necessary to provide for the protection of religious construction in public places before the date of commencement of this Act in order to protect communal harmony and not hurt the religious sentiments of the public,” the Bill stated.
The Bill’s objectives are antithetical to the High Court ruling that had asked the state’s chief secretary P Ravi Kumar to implement the Supreme Court order.
Kumar had directed deputy commissioners of each district in the state to demolish religious structures in public places and file compliance reports about this activity every month. However, after the hue and cry over Nanjangud temple demolition, a show-cause noticewas issued to Mysuru deputy commissioner and Nanjangud tahsildar for carrying out the demolition without consulting the locals.
Will the Demolitions Impact Vote Bank Politics?
A senior Sangh Parivar member said the Congress, which is playing the soft Hindutva card, will not be able to encash on the embarrassment, rift and lack of direction demonstrated by the BJP government. Prior to the 2023 Assembly polls, Karnataka has the civic, panchayats polls and 25 seats in the Legislative Council to be filled from the local bodies.
“From 2004 onwards the narrative of elections has changed. It’s all about money and muscle power and the party which has these will win,'' he maintained.
Former Congress MP VS Ugrappa, however asked, why Bommai acted only when he felt the heat from BJP’s support base. “The BJP only played with the religious sentiments of the people to come to power,” he accused.
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