A single complaint by any ‘disciple’ would be enough for the government to take over a Hindu religious institution and run it under a government-appointed body or under a bureaucrat. Here two phrases must be stressed upon: “Hindu Religious Institution” and “any disciple”.
Yes, this particular law would enable the state government of Karnataka to completely annex a hitherto autonomous organisation belonging only to the Hindu religion under a complaint from any random individual who could proclaim himself to be a disciple of that outfit. What would the government then do? It would then run this Hindu religious organisation under one of its inherently corrupt, congenitally inept and perpetually lazy sarkari babus!
These were the actual provisions of Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Bill, 2014. Those unaware of the social fabric of Karnataka as a state would probably not comprehend the ramifications of this Act; so let us try and understand this in brief. There are literally hundreds of Hindu religious mutts in Karnataka run by various religious sects, trusts and spiritual leaders. Siddhaganga Mutt of Tumkur, Moorusavira Mutt of Hubbali and Suttur Mutt of Mysore are some prominent examples.
By and large most of these mutts not only provide spiritual and religious discourses to the populace but also run some of the best education institutions in the state. Nitya Dasoha — free (quality) meal every day — is one of the core concepts of many of these mutts especially in northern Karnataka where literally thousands of poor get their best and most nutritious meal of the day from these mutts.
With one stroke of a pen, the state government wanted to take control of all these Hindu organisations by stealth. In fact, the Siddaramaiah dispensation went ahead and introduced this Bill on the last day of the Belagavi legislative session in December without even informing the Opposition, avoiding any sort of debate. A national media, which was obsessed with some made-for-the-TV-camera reconversions, found no time to even have a cursory debate about such an inherently anti-India act by a state government. This atrocious Bill has only one parallel in Indian history: the Doctrine of Lapse policy bequeathed by Lord Dalhousie in the 1850s.
Even as of today, the Bill still stands passed and the government has only said it will reconsider it in the future.
You ordinary middle class people living in Bangalore who go out and buy rice paying some 50 rupees per kilo either in one of the swanky hyper marts or from your neighbouring grocery store, have you ever wondered where that rice comes from? What if you come to realise that your state government is actually paying Rs 25 a kilo as subsidy for the rice that you are buying at 50 odd rupees? What black hole is sucking up those Rs 25?
Karnataka is fast emerging as India’s biggest black market for rice. The Karnataka government is giving away rice for Re 1 a kilo to some 1 crore BPL (below poverty line) card holders in the state (9.83 million to be precise), which works out to a Rs 4,300 crore damage every year to the state exchequer. Each BPL family supposedly gets roughly 30 kg of rice every month. In fact this “Anna Bhagya” scheme was supposed to be the great electoral game changer for Siddaramaiah who had dreamt of defeating the Modi wave in the state during the LS polls, but he couldn’t even save his home district of Mysore where a political novice like Pratap Simha defeated the mighty CM of a state.
Literally, hundreds of thousands of trucks operating across the state which link up with 21024 fair price shops are now part of the parallel black rice economy of the state. Individual BPL card holders are paid Rs 12 to 14 by black marketers for the government subsidised Re 1 a kg rice, which is then transported to dozens of illicit rice polishing mills spread across the state where the rice is polished, repackaged and then part exported to other states and part sold to various wholesale dealers in Bangalore. As per one estimate, Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka alone account for some Rs 1,000 crore worth of black market rice that is then sold in Maharashtra. Other experts believe almost 30 per cent of rice requirements of Kerala’s hotel industry is fulfilled by Karnataka’s “black rice”.
Some 1,26,000 government enumerators are now fanning across Karnataka to conduct a census exercise which will cost the state Rs 117 crores. This is an exercise done by the state Backward Class Commission and is expected to be finished in flat 2 months. Yes, in two months the state government wants to have the entire caste data of 6.2 crore people of the state.
Being a small time pollster myself (with a decade long experience), this writer cannot even begin to comprehend the nightmares of such a survey activity. Usually just to conduct a survey with a sample size of less than 10,000 (admittedly with much less resources than a state), it takes a bare minimum of two weeks to accomplish the activity even with experienced field workers conducting the exercise, and yet many sampling errors occur despite our best efforts. Imagine 1,26,000 government employees with minimal or no survey expertise going out to collect such important data points (with 55 questions as part of questionnaire), which have a bearing on the state’s policies and wrapping up the whole exercise in 60 days.
The sheer volume of data would lead to such vast errors that any findings of this survey must not even be worth the paper on which it is written, and yet the government is spending Rs 117 crore for this exercise. In fact, the state government concedes that this census exercise has an error margin of 5 per cent, which in a lay man’s terms means 30 lakh citizens of the state. In reality, our own experience tells us that this exercise carries a risk of a minimum 12 per cent to 15 per cent error margin or roughly misplacing some 75 lakh to 90 lakh people!
Just why does the Siddharamaiah government want to conduct such an error prone exercise? The answer to that lies in the fact that Siddharamaiah is an accidental chief minister who achieved a victory by default in 2013 when the votes of the two powerful castes — Lingayats and Vokkaligas — got divided, especially the former due to the split in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The same BJP which then united to fight an election a year later was able to trounce the Indian National Congress in the state.
The chief minister now believes that the only way that the Congress can continue to retain Karnataka is by tinkering with the demographics, so the state government is now indulging in this dangerously dubious caste-census to arrive at erroneous conclusions, which will then enable him to further enhance his sectarian populism. Consider this: The caste census exercise is being done by the state Backward Castes Commission, which, by its very nature, is a government body that is supposed to cater for the interests of those sections of the society which are deemed as belonging to OBC and SC/ST. Wouldn’t such a body have an inherent bias against, say, the upper and middle castes like Brahmins or Lingayats?
Karnataka is now the last bastion of a terminally ill Congress and possibly also of what is termed loosely as “secular socialism”, which has been the dominant political theme of India for more than six decades. The three scenarios narrated above and the almost totally muted reaction of the mainstream media to the same gives us an inkling of the emerging political reality of India, a country that is probably at a crossroad of civilisational metamorphosis. The ‘Idea of India’ as we have known it for long through a prism that is copyrighted to Lutyen’s intellectual class is engaged in a clash with a new India that is personified by one man: Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi, possibly as dramatically as President Raegan once personified a new America.
The 1980s’ America is often considered the pinnacle of conservativism when the cultural liberalism of the ’60s and ’70s (described usually as “counterculture”) gave way to an inherently conservative society that unabashedly embraced Reaganomics. That decade of the ’80s was possibly the first generational shift that a post-World War world had witnessed, and it will always be considered as a watershed moment in the politics of the right because being conservative actually became ‘cool’ for the first time.
India (with the possible exception of China) is often considered a civilisational anomaly because the Western construct of political dividing lines often blur out in a nation where rajneeti has been a way of life for more millennia than the Western world can even begin to comprehend. Thus, while the West was going through its transformation from counterculture to conservativism, in India, Indira Gandhi was both an ‘ultra-nationalist’ and a socialist liberal built into one single entity throughout most part of ’70s and early ’80s, thereby leaving almost no space for other political thought processes.
Politics in India has often been in stasis where various streams collide to form a unique mesh of currents and countercurrents — all existing under a single electoral umbrella. The first real alternative started taking shape with the Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan in the very late ’80s and early ’90s when the BJP began to emerge on the political consciousness of India. But the BJP too has been grappling with a sort of existential dilemma (Gandhian socialism was one awful example) for more than 30 years because India’s politics was so convoluted and so inherently biased against the right, which in its bare essentials must be defined as socially conservative, politically nationalistic and economically liberal. Thus, in the truest sense the real dawn of Indian right happened only in May 2014.
This dawn of the right in India is also a product of the demographic dividend wherein more than 60 per cent of Indians are below 35 and nearly 63 per cent of the BJP’s voters belong to the 18 to 35 age group (based on our own surveys and CSDS data).
As is always the case with deep-rooted change, the old order often fights back with vengeance. In the US of the ’80s, the clash between the old America and the new America was definitely less rancour-filled in nature and the debate more humorously mature [one of the best examples that I often sight using pop culture is that immensely enjoyable NBC sitcom of the 80s, Family Ties, which personifies that clash of ideas within a family so brilliantly].
Unfortunately in India, the Opposition, the media and the liberals neither have the maturity to comprehend the emergence of the Indian right nor the subtlety to differentially analyse the vagaries of the new India. So what we are seeing today is the cacophony of television studios and the imprudence of the editorial class.
Thus a Sagarika Ghose, who even at her best rarely understands an India beyond her gin drinking club, is confounded by an Indian middle class patronising a Kashmiri Muslim hero in Haider and yet voting for Modi in 2014! While a Praveen Swami goes on prime-time TV and wants the prime minister to apologise for a dead Pakistani — in this case a Pakistani terrorist at worst or a Pakistani smuggler at best! Not to be left behind, Congress spokespersons of Ragini Nayak’s calibre of immaturity shout out from TV studios that her party prefers Pakistan over Modi.
In this clash of civilisational ideas, on the one hand, political opposition like Siddaramaiah’s Congress is attempting to tweak the demographics by utilising sectarian populism and Nitish Kumar’s new Janata Dal (United) — to be soon merged into a body of converging Janata splinter groups(?) — is trying to score cultural brownie points by propagating PK in the hinterland, while on the other hand the editorial-intellectual class is creating artificial divisions by propping up fringe groups in order to portray a top-heavy majoritarian India.
On the other side of the divide, Modi is quietly building a new India by institutionalising the right; one latest example being the NITI Ayog under the leadership of the redoubtable Arvind Panagariya.
The difference is stark. While Modi has the vision to change India, the Opposition has nothing but bankrupt ideas of mere symbolism. And the media? Well, the media has nothing but noise. It is this bankruptcy of the entire opposition spectrum that is helping BJP notch electoral victory after electoral victory and the vanquished continue to refuse to learn.
Take the case of Siddaramaiah’s foolish efforts to win voters through leaky populism. No matter how much the Karnataka government spends, it cannot win any more elections as long as there are a whopping 77 per cent farming households perpetually in debt in the state. Instead of solving this agrarian crisis, Congress strategists have convinced Siddaramaiah that he can only win elections by attracting specific demographics.
Yet, history has shown us time and again the ability of meaningless cacophony to emerge triumphant over vision – Vajpayee’s defeat of 2004 is but one example which was especially hurtful to a nation, for now we have the luxury of hindsight to realise how Sonia Gandhi squandered those 10 years.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon us right wingers and the assorted ‘Internet Hindus’ to not fall into the media trap of being perpetually outraged about Hinduism being in danger. It is time to set an agenda of a strong India with systemic reforms and liberal economics. Modi is the best bet we have had in almost a thousand years, let us not squander this one opportunity.