Baba Budangiri: successful resistance to saffronization
By Hari Shankar
Milli Gazette Online
Saffronization is a process of re-defining India's culture, heritage, economy and history in the narrow framework of upper class Hindus. The gradual transformation that happened over years under the aegis of Sangh Parivar (extremist Hindu groups RSS and VHP), got accelerated under the Governance of BJP (the political wing of Extremist Hindu forces) while in power for seven years as the leading coalition member in the National Democratic Alliance.
Audience at the Vedike meeting
BJP has historically grown in strength by appealing to the religious instincts of Hindu majority. By mixing politics and religion, it intoxicated the India's Hindi speaking belt in North and West and gradually grew in numbers. In 1989 it won 85 seats, (up from 2 seats in 1984 elections) at the backdrop of the Ayodhya Babri Masjid controversy. In 1990 the Rath Yatra headed by its leader L. K. Advani not only left many dead in its wake, but also prepared the grounds for the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992. Since then India saw communal riots happening at a scale never witnessed before. BJP became the single largest party for the first time in 1996, but it still lacked the majority to form the government. BJP was thus forced to suppress some of its agendas to cater to the coalition politics and maintain a moderate stance. But the mask fell when the Gujarat Pogrom occurred in 2002. Unfortunately the brazen pogrom was not much criticized by its coalition members, since in the subsequent elections in five states BJP won handsomely. The "Gujarat Experiment" was thus hailed as a success and the leaders from BJP openly discussed the implementation of this experiment in other states.
BJP in order to break free from the shackles of coalition politics had to win more seats in Eastern and Southern regions where they had a very marginal representation. Out of 132 seats in the South zone (non Hindi speaking belt of India comprising of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala , Tamil Nadu and Union Territories of Andaman, Lakshadweep and Pondicherry) BJP had won only 20 seats in 1998 elections. This is the maximum number of seats that the BJP has won till date from the Southern regions. Karnataka was chosen as an ideal point of entry for the BJP since it could aggressively pursue its Hindutva agenda without causing blushes to the coalition members.
The modus-operandi of saffronization is now clear. The extremist forces select the places where there are several communities living in harmony and create tensions among them. It appeals to the majority Hindus to exercise their patriotic duty by participating in ethnic cleansing. The political wing of Hindutva forces provides the legitimacy by normalizing such practices as well as shielding the criminals from justice. This two-pronged approach to saffronization is very difficult to combat. In fact the other national party Indian National Congress has done little to counter the spread of Saffronization. Thus the responsibility fell among the secular progressive citizens who believed in preserving the pluralistic fabric of rich diverse Indian culture.
In Karnataka the target for the extremist Hindu forces was to concentrate on a small shrine in Baba Budangiri. This scenic place, nestled amidst the Western Ghats in the district of Chickmagalur has been chosen by Sangh Parivar to make it the "Ayodhya of the South". Baba Budnagiri is a place of worship for both Muslims as well as Hindus, a sufi shrine. Datta, broke away from the mainstream Hindu practices and joined Bab Budan to establish a place of worship for the suppressed people from any religion. For several centuries people from all the communities have worshipped in this temple. The extremist Hindu forces declared that the shrine needed to be liberated and cleaned of Muslim influence. Hence they launched several new rituals and rallies with the sole intention of creating tension and bring disharmony. The event they chose to intervene and carry on the Saffronization was the birthday of Datta. This fascist voice grew louder and shriller with the elections coming up in 2004 May. In December 2003 entire Karnataka was doused in saffron flags and leaders who had participated/encouraged the Gujarat pogrom made their way to Karnataka to make hate speeches and incite masses.
The only resistance offered against the Saffron March to Babbuddangiri was a coalition of grassroots workers named Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony (Vedike). This forum comprising the Dalits, farmers, secularists, women's groups and communists decided to stage a protest rally against the saffron march on the same day. The Vedike team members were arrested in December 2003 and the Saffron Brigade was allowed to continue its march and perform rituals. Two days later the Vedike organized another meet in Chickmagalur, to display the strength of grass roots activists. It turned out to be a massive rally in which close to 30,000 people participated. There were cultural events and spontaneous show of goodwill among people. This rally contrasted in style and content with the fascist forces with the display of song and dance and bonhomie.
In 2004 the Vedike assembled again with vigour to resist the saffron brigade. The ground work was done thoroughly and Saffron Brigade suffered serious setbacks in legal, political as well as people's support. Vedike worked on the legal ground that rituals established prior to 1974 should only be followed. It issued Public Interest Litigation that no new rituals should be entertained in Baba Budangiri. It also demanded that the government should ban all the rallies on Datta-Jayanti (birthday of Datta-Baba that Saffron forces celebrated to cleanse the sufi shrine) and people can still visit the shrine as before without enforcing new rituals. This year the state banned both the rallies of the Saffron Brigade as well as Vedike. This was a great political victory for Vedike.
Vedike had expected this outcome and organized a rally at an alternative place in Shimoga, Karnataka on Dec 25th 2004. The event was celebrated with gaiety, since for the first time in India the grass roots workers had stopped the march of the Saffron Brigade. This is no small achievement and has been made possible only by dedication and commitment of the farmers, minorities, dalits, students, women's groups and several other religious and non-religious institutions. The resistance can inspire various peace loving, anti-communal forces to collaborate and work towards stopping Saffronization. We have made a dent in the armor of Saffron Brigade. But this is just the beginning and the movement should continue to gain momentum from here. India still has a long way to go before it removes the scars of Saffronization.
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