Karnataka Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh recently made headlines with the statement seeking a report on the standards of teaching at Arabic schools in the state. He said that these schools hadn't been teaching syllabus prescribed by the education department. According to a media report, he asked, “Shouldn’t students at Arabic schools too have access to the same education facilities in other schools?”
The statement led to widespread condemnation, with many asking why the minister singled out Arabic schools. However, this is not the first time that Nagesh has dwelt upon the controversial.
From supporting a ban on hijab in educational institutions that come under his purview to supporting a controversial revision of school textbooks, the minister has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Here's a look at BC Nagesh, and why he is a minister who holds a good portfolio only to court controversy too often.
Justifying his stand on the Arabic schools, Nagesh told The Quint, “You should visit an Arabic school. You will know what I’m talking about. What will these students pursue after studying at an Arabic school? Is there an Arabic college?” But why is the minister controversial, like this? His upbringing in the ABVP and association with the RSS could explain.
Nagesh Is ABVP Bred
BC Nagesh ventured into activism as a student leader at the age of 22. He was an integral part of Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), while he was studying engineering at BMS College in Bengaluru. “He was a full-time worker. He was set to defy the teachers in the interest of students,” said BJP’s MH Sridhar, who also worked with him in ABVP. Nagesh was instrumental in building ABVP’s base in Bengaluru, Sridhar continued, while speaking to The Quint.
“Nagesh was very innovative in his approach. He was adept in resource mobilisation,” pointed Prof MK Sridhar, member, National Education Policy Draft Committee, also a close friend of Nagesh. In an exclusive interaction with The Quint, he said:
“The man found a way to establish rapport even with those people who didn’t follow our school of thought. His ability to connect with people was amazing.”
While his work for ABVP and, by extension, the BJP, has been impeccable, the 62-year-old minister has often found himself in the centre of controversies. However, in his exclusive interaction with The Quint, Nagesh termed the troubles that he had landed himself in, “concern, and not controversy.”
One of the noted issues that triggered a political storm was the hijab ban. Soon after the Supreme Court delivered a split verdict, Nagesh stressed on the fact that Karnataka High Court’s order will remain valid, wherein Muslim girls will be disallowed from wearing hijab to government colleges and the premises would not allow any religious practice.
“Sisters from that community should have freedom. The hijab phenomenon in institutions was forced by the Popular Front Of India (PFI). And this was politically motivated,” Nagesh claimed.
This, even as many Muslim women students have been protesting for their right to wear hijab in educational institutions.
Different From His Father
“Nagesh has always been a nationalist, believing in the RSS ideology since childhood,” the minister’s dear friend and Vice Chancellor of Karnataka State Rural Development And Panchayat Raj University, Gadag, Dr Vishnukant S Chatpalli told The Quint.
While Nagesh followed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), his father had cut his teeth in the Janata Dal. Nagesh’s father BS Chandrashekaraiah was an MLA in 1985 on a Janata Dal ticket, when Ramakrishna Hegde was at the helm of affairs.
“My father believed in freedom for everyone at home – be it likes, dislikes, beliefs or ideologies,” remarked Nagesh. In fact, Chandrasekaraiah opened his assets for the RSS to hold camps as much as he willingly let the JD(S) hold meets there, the minister added. “We welcomed anyone who wanted to do good for the society,” Nagesh added.
Brought up in this milieu, Nagesh has always been unapologetic about the his view points that align with the RSS.
Nagesh fought fires in June 2022, when the government decided to form a committee to examine books from Classes I to X, following complaints that some lessons were hurting the sentiments of the Brahmin community.
Brahmin Minister Who Never Crosses the Sangh's Line
In fact, being a Brahmin, Nagesh secured votes in Tiptur constituency, where his community members are a minority in demographic size. Nagesh is both "a nationalist and pro-Hindu," claimed Sridhar. Is this what got him elected?
Following major backlash over the textbook controversy, Nagesh promised that the government would be open for further revision of textbook content and decided to restore certain chapters too.
“Nagesh is known to be open and straightforward. And he never would cross the line drawn by the Sangha,” stated MH Sridhar.
According to the minister’s friends, Nagesh has always been driven by the principles of the Sangh. “However, politics was never on his mind,” said MH Sridhar. Sources suggest, a member of his close family is directly part of the RSS.
Hailing from Tumakuru, Nagesh’s family is into business and they are extremely rich. “Nagesh’s father was a dry coconut merchant,” Vishnukant remarked. Nagesh’s net worth, based on reports, is Rs 9.4 crore.
The Tiptur MLA’s parents thought he may become an engineer. His friends thought he’d end up in business. MH Sridhar explained that it was late BJP leader Ananth Kumar, who spotted Nagesh and persuaded him to pursue a career in politics and set foot into the lotus party.
“It was Ananth Kumarji and Yeddiyurappaji, who asked me to get into active politics with the BJP. When Ananth Kumar invited me initially in 1993, I rejected. He and Yeddiyurappaji later convinced me,” Nagesh confirmed.
While working with ABVP, Nagesh became part of the RSS, working in rural organisations. He was fervently involved in the Lok Sabha election activity in Tiptur in 1991. He soon was entrusted with responsibilities in various organisations under the BJP.
According to S Prakash, BJP spokesperson, Nagesh became Tiptur MLA after contesting in the election necessitated by B Nanjamari’s resignation. While he won in 2008, Nagesh tasted defeat in 2013. He, however, was back in the game in 2018.
The Minister's 'Weak Spots'
While those close to him hailed Nagesh as a hard worker, but they said they find him lacking the skills to become a thinker. Nagesh is not believed to be a voracious reader. He needs to study the subject in depth before raising his opinions. That will make his battle more meaty, they say.
He lacks skills in public relations and must sport a more aggressive approach to things, they add.
A case in point, bearing testimony to this, is Nagesh’s statement in July while addressing late distribution of amenities to government school children. He said, students make their way to schools for learning and not to wear shoes and socks. He received flak with many questioning whether his two children ever went to school barefoot.
The Karnataka minister for primary and secondary education listened to the weaknesses mentioned. “Well, I do the best I can,” he responded. Clouded by controversies and criticisms, would Nagesh regret his decision to enter mainstream politics? “I do wonder why I dove into core politics. Now that I’m here, I can’t get out,” the BJP leader said.
(Pratiba Raman is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru)