In June, the textbook review committee in Karnataka headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha became the subject of public outrage with several socio-cultural organisations and the Indian National Congress calling out the changes that the committee prescribed.
But why did the BJP government in Karnataka seemingly walk back on its decision to implement a detailed revision of textbooks?
When Did the Unrest Begin?
The textbook revision committee was set up in 2020. The committee, in March 2021, first recommended changes to avoid "hurting brahmin sentiments" in the introductory chapter of Class VIII social science textbooks. The chapter reportedly had a section that stated that in the Vedic period sacrifice of cattle and use of ghee and milk had caused food scarcity.
Following this revision, reports emerged alleging that chapters on freedom fighter and communist ideologue Bhagat Singh, Mysuru ruler Tipu Sultan, founder of Lingayat sect Basavanna, Dravidian leader Periyar, social reformers Narayana Guru and Swami Vivekananda were removed or distorted.
This sparked a raging storm with writers, scholars, and seers upping their ante against the BJP. The textbook committee chairman Rohith Chakrathirtha's social media post of 2016, which allegedly ridiculed Kannada poet Kuvempu's work, also did not go down well.
However, the revised Class X Kannada textbook included a speech by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. The revisions are currently being called “saffronisation of textbooks," as several organisations have come out stating that the textbooks, after revision, seem to have taken a right-wing turn.
Is BJP’s U-Turn an Election Tactic?
While the BJP stayed defiant during most of the protests, the CM announced dissolution of the committee a few days after the controversy centered on changes made in the writing of Kuvempu, Basavanna and Ambedkar.
“The U-turn now is an election tactic,” said Congress leader VS Ugrappa, while talking to The Quint.
Educationist Niranjan Aradhya alleged, “The strategy that the BJP follows during elections is to resort to polarisation. They play with religious emotions, stir the public and consolidate Hindu votes.”
Explaining this further, he alleged that the textbook revision was a deliberate attempt to strongly portray chapters on “injustice to Hindus” to rake up emotional issues to suit “BJP’s scheme of things.
Did Controversy Around Basavanna, Kuvempu, & Ambedkar Change the Tide?
The initial resentment against textbook revision was caused by the inclusion of the RSS founder’s speech, but it snowballed into a massive revolt as the pontiffs of the Lingayat and Vokkaliga mutts turned hostile with reports of chapters on Basavanna being allegedly distorted.
That apart, a 2016 social media post of writer Rohith Chakrathirtha, who headed the textbook review committee, resurfaced adding more fuel to the controversy.
The post allegedly presented a distorted version of the state anthem penned by Kannada poet Kuvempu. It is to be noted that Kuvempu is also a Vokkaliga cultural icon, who is widely known in Karnataka.
Nirmalanandanatha Swami of Adichunchanagiri Mutt voiced concerns regarding the post. Similarly, seer Panditaradhya Shivacharya of Tarulabalu Jagadguru Peetha criticised the textbook revision committee for alleged distortion of a section on Basavanna.
Several Dalit groups also raised protest against changes in the section on BR Ambedkar, from which parts on caste hierarchy in Hinduism and reference to Ambedkar as "architect of the constitution," were allegedly removed.
Girimaleshwar Swami of Tapovan Mutt in Yadgir was content after Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced that the government would consider reviewing the objections raised around chapter on Basavanna. Speaking to The Quint, the seer said, “We warned them (BJP) of consequences if they failed to restore the chapters on Basavanna.”
“If the ruling party hadn’t agreed to our demands about the changes in the lessons on Basavanna and Ambedkar, it would have been amounted to a 100 percent loss for the BJP,” said Sadashiv Devru, a devoted follower of Basavanna. “If they had sat quiet on our demands, we wouldn’t have let go of this,” he stressed.
The Lingayats’ influence spreads over 100 of 224 Assembly seats. With the absence of Lingayat strongman BS Yediyurappa at the helm of affairs, “BJP had to accede to the demands, as the party found itself in a corner,” commented Niranjan Aradhya.
As per 2011 census estimates, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas make up 17 percent and and 15 percent of the total population in the state, while the Scheduled Castes account for 17.5 percent. However, parts of the caste census data from Karnataka has given different population estimates for these castes, even though the state government has not released the data officially.
Will the Caste Backlash Affect BJP?
A highly-placed source in the BJP told The Quint that the textbook issue could have been nipped in the bud, and that it was unnecessarily prolonged 'just like the Hijab issue.’
Meanwhile Congress spokesperson Kengal Renu said, "Even if the electorate has a short memory, if the political opponents and concerned communities trigger this issue later, things could prove costly for the BJP.”
JDS leader Tanveer Ahmed was of the opinion that this will be Basavaraj Bommai's last tenure as CM. “The party had to scurry to troubleshoot in order to mitigate the damage done. The BJP realised that this move (textbook revision) could result in severe backlash in the elections. Since the people of Karnataka know the state’s history very well, Bommai could as well bid farewell to the CM’s throne in the upcoming polls,” Ahmed said.
Another source in the BJP told The Quint that the BJP should have presented a stronger defense and countered the objections raised in an effective manner. “This was unnecessarily politicised,” insisted BJP MLC Ashwath Narayana.
However, BJP spokesperson S Prakash, while speaking to The Quint vehemently emphasised that this will not affect the poll prospects of the party. “This controversy was a result of a misinformation campaign. We have resolved the issue. The books will be out soon for you to see,” he further stated.