Almost a month after the Siddaramaiah government came to power in Karnataka, the Congress seems to be sending a clear message that the party will focus on governance and will quell all polarising campaigns in the state. The message is intended to keep the confidence of the electorate which voted the grand old party to power.
While several political leaders of the ruling party had earlier promised to repeal the ban on hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka, on Thursday, 15 June, the Cabinet repealed the controversial anti-conversion law. Moreover, the government has also decided to remove the newly introduced chapters on RSS ideologues from school textbooks.
Senior leaders of the Congress told The Quint that the party has decided to take a strong stand against communalism in the state. Why?
Bajrang Dal Ban and Congress Manifesto
It started with a line in the Congress manifesto which the party issued prior to the elections which were held on 10 May. The Congress promised a ban on all organisations, including the Popular Front of India and Bajrang Dal, if they were to create communal rifts in the society. The campaign-line gathered a political storm, with the BJP’s star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking the voters to cast their vote after offering salutation to Bajrang Bali or Lord Hanuman.
The BJP’s Bajrang Bali campaign, however, did not yield the desired result as the Congress came to power with a thumping majority of 135 seats in the state. Even in Coastal Karnataka, where the campaign had gained some traction, the BJP did not perform well.
While the promise to invoke a ban on Bajrang Dal was not widely supported by the Congress’ senior leaders at first, the election result seems to have given the party the confidence to take on Hindutva and its outfits.
“The mandate given to us is clear. The Congress was voted to power with an overwhelming majority as people supported our welfare and development measures and our unwavering stand against unconstitutional communal politics,” Karnataka Minister Priyank Kharge told The Quint. According to Kharge, the Congress’ aim is to maintain law and order in Karnataka by preventing communal polarisation in the state.
Moreover, the Congress has also decided to review policies implemented by the BJP government in the past and take “corrective measures” without hesitation.
Complete Overhaul of BJP’s Policies
From the time the party came to power and eight of its MLAs swore in as ministers, the Congress has been clear that Siddaramaiah’s Cabinet will not just implement Congress’ election promises quickly but also take policy level decisions to undo what the BJP government under both BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai had implemented.
The policies to be reviewed included amendments to Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees Act which echoed the Centre’s farm laws, hijab ban, anti-conversion act, anti-cattle slaughter act, and revision of school textbooks.
This is how the Karnataka government is doing the job at hand: Karnataka’s Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar held meetings across the city to take stock of civic amenities in a city which has been witnessing urban flooding and poor roads. Meanwhile, it is said, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah held consultations with several sections including activists who have been raising concerns about policies implemented by the BJP government. “The administration is looking at both welfare measures and development and preservation of social fabric on equal priority,” Priyank Kharge told The Quint.
In the coming days, the Congress is expected to take stock of the act that banned cattle slaughter. “That was an anti-farmer act. Cattle farmers were highly affected by it though the BJP tried to reap political dividends by calling it the anti-cow slaughter act,” a Congress leader who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Quint.
The government has already decided to revoke the amendments to APMC act, which were still in place despite the Centre revoking the farm laws after a year-long protest by farmers.
Is Karnataka serving as a test case for the Congress to ascertain if an unequivocal stand against communalism or what most Opposition parties have been calling “the politics of hatred” can become a poll-plank in 2024 elections?
No More ‘Soft-Hindutva’
Before the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in New Delhi, with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reciting Hanuman Chalisa, Congress was the party which was accused the most of taking a soft-Hindutva stand to counter the BJP. Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, during the term of Congress PM PV Narasimha Rao, several left-leaning scholars, activists, and members of the civil society have accused the Congress of peddling a softened stand on Hindutva without taking on the BJP’s ideological apparatus head-on.
However, in the recent past the party has shown a tendency to oppose Hindutva by rallying against “hatred” – Rahul Gandhi himself referred to Karnataka win as a clear message from the people that they would stand by brotherhood and love.
“We have decided to take on the RSS machinery without hesitation,” said a senior Congress leader.
Priyank Kharge invoked constitutional morality, when asked if the party wants to stand against communal politics directly. “We are holding up the constitutional values. Why wouldn’t people of the state support the values of our Constitution?” Kharge asked.