Karnataka, under CM Basavaraj Bommai has made headlines primarily for Hindutva projects, and in a series of meetings with artists, writers and activists, Rahul Gandhi put spotlight on majoritarian communalism.
The Congress has been insisting that the Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by Rahul Gandhi, is not to enhance the party’s electoral prospects but for an altruistic purpose of bringing the country together. And as the padayatra is passing through its first BJP-governed state, the focus has been on communal hate. Karnataka, under the Chief Ministership of Basavaraj Bommai has made headlines primarily for Hindutva projects. In a series of meetings with artists, writers and activists who have been fighting hate, Rahul Gandhi has put the spotlight on majoritarian communalism.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Karnataka through Gundlupet on the border of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala on September 30. Rahul Gandhi met a group of members from civil society. Devanuru Mahadeva, an award winning progressive writer in Kannada also met Rahul Gandhi in Gundlupet and presented a book on the Indian Constitution to the Congress leader. Recalling the meeting Devanuru said, “When Siddaramaiah introduced me, Rahul Gandhi immediately said that he knew of me. He said he is eagerly waiting for my book on RSS to be translated into English so he can read it.”
His recent book RSS: Aala Mattu Agala’ (RSS: Depth and Width), which was scathing about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was a bestseller and has already been translated into many Indian languages. Devanuru said that he observed Rahul Gandhi’s conversations with people and found him to be sincere and devoid of political manipulations. “He spoke like a statesman. While I don’t know what his electoral prospects are, I found him to be an honest leader who can lead the country away from hate,” Devanuru added.
Read: Devanuru Mahadeva’s new Kannada book is a bestseller and the Sangh is fuming
On October 1, in Mysuru district, Rahul met with a group of 20-odd activists working in different spheres in a closed-door meeting. They all had one common thread though – they had been working against majoritarianism. Those who were present in the meeting said that while Rahul asked people to share their experiences while battling hate, he also spoke about his and his family’s encounters with hate, including the assassinations.
Preethi Nagaraj, a writer and journalist who was part of the meeting told TNM that when she asked Rahul how he dealt with fake news about him and his family, he said he tried to not be very affected by it as much as possible as the very intent of spreading falsehoods was to destroy his personality in the minds of people. “We also spoke about the psychological connection between hate and fear. He said that this government was not creating employment and instead maintaining and harnessing fear turning it into hate,” Preethi said.
Educationist Vidya Shankar who was also part of the same group said she raised the issue of education not being given enough priority in budgets over the last few years. She said that she also broached the topic of political interference in implementing major syllabus change in schools and colleges. Recently, a committee constituted by the Karnataka government, led by right-wing orator Rohith Chakrathirtha, made several changes to textbooks. In the revisions made, lessons written by Dalit, progressive and reformist writers speaking against communalism and caste hierarchy were dropped, and essays speaking for gender equality and social justice too were omitted.
“We shared with Rahul Gandhi that our freedom of expression is being curbed. Many from our group said that we are now scared to criticise those from the ruling party. Because we don’t know what will happen to us. He said that those who are spreading fear are themselves frightened and putting others down helps them deal with this, he said. The duration of the interaction was less, but we managed to express ourselves,” Vidya told TNM.
Read: Dalit writers out, RSS ideologues in: List of changes in Karnataka textbooks
In Mandya, a group of 12 educationalists and activists met Rahul Gandhi for almost an hour and spoke of issues plaguing the education field in the state. A wide range of issues from National Education Policy (NEP), school dropouts to saffronisation of textbooks in Karnataka featured in the discussions. The educationists reportedly told Rahul Gandhi that there are attempts being made to keep students away from schools in Karnataka. They took up the issue of how if children are even a couple of days short of six years old, they are not admitted into Class 1 and this is pushing more children into child labour. “Rahul Gandhi assured us that if Congress comes to power in the state, they will ensure none of these mistakes are repeated. We asked him to make changes in at least Congress-ruled states like Rajasthan. He said he would convey it,” said one of the attendees of the meeting.
Lokesh Talikatte, president of the Registered Unaided Private School Association (RUPSA) in Karnataka, said they also took up the issue of corruption in schools in the state. He said that despite giving evidence of bribes being asked for granting licences to run schools, the government was not taking action.
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He said that he also took up issues related to falsehoods being included in the curriculum with Rahul Gandhi. “History lessons are being twisted and misrepresented in the textbooks. Even in Science textbooks, some folklore and mythologies with no evidence are being added. We worry that this will lead the students down a dangerous path,” Lokesh told TNM. “Introduction of new religions in India and industrial revolution are among the chapters deleted, and we told Rahul Gandhi that this will hamper the students’ chances on a global stage. Through systematic omissions and additions, there was an attempt to spread communal hate. We discussed all this with him and he assured us that he would take up these issues. He listened to us for over 40 minutes and gave us his response in the end,” Lokesh added.
On October 8, slain journalist Gauri Lankesh’s sister Kavitha and mother Indira Lankesh too met Rahul Gandhi and walked with him for a few minutes too. Kavitha told TNM that Rahul shared his experience of losing a family member to hate and violence. He spoke of how he coped with the death of his father, former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi. “We had that in common and he spoke very candidly. He was very kind to me and my mother and after my mother walked for five minutes, he dropped her back to her car,” Kavitha said. She said that he asked about the status of trial in Gauri Lankesh’s murder and why she was targeted. “Rahul too has dealt with so much hate so it was all very relatable. He asked about the speech Gauri had made against Hindutva that made her the target of the assassins. We spoke about the increasing communal violence in the country,” Kavitha said. She said that after seeing Devanuru Mahadeva hold up a book on the Constitution, she felt the need to express solidarity and volunteered to be part of Bharat Jodo Yatra.
In Karnataka, the yatra will cover a total distance of 511 kms over 22 days. While officially the Congress maintains that the yatra in the state was not designed to bolster the party’s chances in the upcoming Assembly elections, the leaders hope that this will give the much-needed momentum to take on the ruling BJP.
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