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Caste Is a Bigger Issue: A BJP Leader Questions Karnataka’s Anti-Conversion Act

AH Vishwanath, a BJP MLC, questions the anti-conversion bill as he thinks there are no forceful conversions.

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Adagur H Vishwanath, a BJP MLC does not think the Hindus of Karnataka are being forcefully converted to other religions. But, according Vishwanath, his views were not heard in Karnataka's Upper House, because he contradicted most BJP legislators, including Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who were supporting the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act – 2021, popularly known as the anti-conversion act.

Karnataka’s Legislative Council passed the anti-conversion act on 15 September. The state's minority groups, including the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado, have opposed the legislation and plan to challenge it in a court of law. The Congress staged a walkout opposing the bill on 15 September.

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When The Quint asked Vishwanath what he thought of the controversial act he unwaveringly said, “No one is forcing me to adopt their religion. There is no question of someone asking Hindus to join some other religion. The problem is that people of backward castes are not being treated as Hindus.”

In a stark critique of his own party's decision to implement the anti-conversion act, Vishwanath implied that people who hail from historically marginalised communities, including Dalits, Adivasis, and Bahujans may have opted for non-Hindu religions because Hinduism has a discriminatory caste hierarchy within its social structure.

“Even now, there are temples in Karnataka and other places where people of some (backward) communities are not allowed to enter. Where is the question of them being forced to join another religion. Why wouldn’t they join on their own?”
AH Vishwanath, BJP MLC
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When a Former Congress and JD(S) Leader Criticises BJP

“I had made a request to speak about the (anti-conversion) bill. But I was not allowed to participate,” said Vishwanath, implying that his own party men prevented him from spelling out his stand in the Upper House.

Why is AH Vishwanath boldly opposing his own party’s legislation?

Vishwanath was once a veteran Indian National Congress (INC) leader who had served the grand old party for four decades. Over a tiff with Karnataka’s current Leader of Opposition (LOP) and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Vishwanath left Congress and joined Janata Dal (Secular) in 2017.

AH Vishwanath, a BJP MLC, questions the anti-conversion bill as he thinks there are no forceful conversions.

AH Vishwanath was once a Congress veteran.

Photo: Twitter)

Though he became the president of JD(S) in 2018, Vishwanath played a big role in bringing down the Congress-JD(S) government in 2019.

He joined the BJP in November 2019, but was disqualified along with 14 other MLAs for defecting from JD(S) and Congress. He contested the bypoll from the same Hunsur seat that he had won before the government was brought down by the BJP. Vishwanath, however, lost this election.

A year later, in 2020, the BJP nominated him to the Legislative Council. However, now the septuagenarian does not seem to be happy in this role.
AH Vishwanath, a BJP MLC, questions the anti-conversion bill as he thinks there are no forceful conversions.

Karnataka BJP MLC Adaguru Huchegowda Vishwanath on Monday, 25 April, said that the government does not belong to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Adagur H Vishwanath)

“I will speak the truth always. I did that in the Congress and JD(S) and am doing the same in the BJP. I am not worried. Neither am I afraid of any repercussions,” he said, nonchalantly.

However, this is not the first time that Vishwanath has spoken against the BJP government in Karnataka after Bommai took over as Chief Minister in 2021. First, Vishwanath was against former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa stepping down abruptly on the insistence of the BJP’s national leadership. Later, in March 2022, Vishwanath opposed the state government’s decision to ban non-Hindu vendors from setting shop at temple festivals. Now, he has found cause to criticise the BJP’s anti-conversion act.

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The Kuruba Leader’s Critique of BJP

Interestingly, he is one of the only OBC leaders within the BJP to oppose the saffron party.

In a backhanded comment Vishwanath implied that the BJP does not have to protect Hinduism or Hindus.

“Hinduism does not need protection. It is a strong religion,” he laughed, adding, “Hinduism can protect itself.” A leader hailing from Kuruba caste, Vishwanath has always called himself a shepherd. “I am a shepherd. I am not considered a Hindu. That is where the problem lies."
AH Vishwanath, BJP MLC
AH Vishwanath, a BJP MLC, questions the anti-conversion bill as he thinks there are no forceful conversions.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has been an ardent supporter of the anti-conversion act.

(Photo: Twitter)

The most pertinent question, however, is whether Vishwanath can make another political jump, landing himself and those who had defected from non-BJP parties back in the Congress or the JD(S)?

A source in the BJP told The Quint, “Vishwanath is considered a loose cannon as he makes statements against the BJP and its policies that cater to our core supporters. His statements are not being looked at lightly anymore.” The BJP, however, does not think that he can reverse the party’s fortunes. “He cannot go back to the Congress till Siddaramaiah is still the main leader. It is not clear whether he is welcome back in the JD(S),” the BJP leader said.

However, internal conflicts in the BJP could affect the party’s prospects in the upcoming Assembly elections scheduled for 2023.

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Ahead of 2023 Elections, Are More BJP Leaders Disgruntled?

Basavaraj Bommai’s government had recently met with stark criticism from within the BJP, when a Yuva Morcha worker Praveen Nettaru was murdered two months ago. Several youth workers and social media leaders had quit the party in protest, even as the CM scrambled to stamp out the raging political controversy. Bommai was blamed for not securing the lives of ground-level workers of the party.

AH Vishwanath, a BJP MLC, questions the anti-conversion bill as he thinks there are no forceful conversions.

Parents and sister of Praveen Nettaru grieving the death of the 32-year old in their residence in Bellare.

On the other hand, the Panchamasali Lingayats have been posing a steady threat to the government with their leader and seer Basavajaya Mruthyunjaya demanding 2A category status among Backward Classes for the community. Even on 20 September, the Panchamasalis held a protest in Haveri against Bommai.

AH Vishwanath, a BJP MLC, questions the anti-conversion bill as he thinks there are no forceful conversions.
Sri Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami speaks as Sri Vachanananda Swami (R) looks on during the Panchamasali convention to demand for the inclusion of Lingayat community in the 2A reservation category, in Bengaluru on Sunday.
(Photo Courtesy: PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak)
Also, some leaders including BJP’s National General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santhosh, have not yet warmed up to Bommai’s leadership, as he has been rooting for those leaders who have had tight ties with the RSS within the BJP.
AH Vishwanath, a BJP MLC, questions the anti-conversion bill as he thinks there are no forceful conversions.

BL Santhosh.

(Photo: IANS)

Besides, among those who defected from the Congress’ side only K Sudhakar (Health Minister) has been seen as a successful politician in the BJP. Though Ramesh Jarkiholi had wielded some power, he was forced to step down after he was accused of sexual misconduct.  

Vishwanath’s disgruntlement could further upset and embarrass the BJP. "If politicians don't speak the truth, who will?" Vishwanath asked, as he continued to hold his ground on the anti-conversion act.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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