ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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W(h)ither Karnataka?

Of late Karnataka has been in the news for unhealthy reasons. Controversies relating to the wearing of hijab by students have left a scar on the social landscape. This was followed by protests against the revision of school textbooks. The government did not handle either with skill. The opposition (read the Congress) also has failed to present to the public a vision for the state’s development.

Karnataka is in the news but for unsavoury reasons. It started a few months ago with an unseemly row over the use of hijab by Muslim school and college students in some parts of the state. This was followed by a spat over textbooks for school students, especially those relating to history and social studies. And this continues no matter that students in schools are left without textbooks. Only now, the government has agreed to add an erratum to the textbooks but there appear to be niggling problems with regard to ensuring that all students get hold of the corrigendum. Therefore, it is important to understand the backdrop to this episode.

Distorting History

The problem started when the government constituted a committee to review school textbooks and recommend changes if required to make sure that they presented a truthful picture of Indian society, culture, and history to the schoolchildren. The committee was chaired by a person who did not possess the credentials required for this sensitive task. To make matters worse, the committee comprised 15 members, of whom 10 were Brahmins. More to the point, their credentials too were not self-evident. The changes proposed by the committee led to a furore. The causes were briefly the following: a speech of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder K B Hedgewar was included in one of the textbooks. At the same time, a reference to B R Ambedkar as the “architect of the Constitution” was removed (in Kannada “Samvidhana Shilpi”). There was tampering with lessons dealing with some of the epochal figures of Karnataka such as Basavanna who in the 12th century led a rebellion against the rigidity of the caste system and whose teachings led to the founding of the Lingayat-Veerashaiva faith.

The committee has also apparently removed references to iconic figures of some other castes like the Vokkaligas. The chair of the committee is reported to have made derogatory remarks against a great writer and literary figure of the past century K V Puttappa generally known as “Kuvempu,” one of whose poems is the state anthem of Karnataka. Although he is a much-respected stalwart among all sections of Karnataka society, he is an icon for the Vokkaliga caste (incidentally the Lingayats and Vokkaligas are the “dominant castes” in Karnataka). The consequence of the committee’s actions was that it provoked opposition from progressive writers/intellectuals as well as heads of some mathas (monastic orders). Some writers whose articles were included in the textbooks withdrew their permission and called on the government to remove their articles from the books.

The government headed by Basavaraj Bommai has given plenty of evidence of being clueless as to how to deal with these issues. The general feeling is that he and his government are being led by the RSS. Informed rumour has it that when Bommai took over as chief minister, he agreed to give two major portfolios—home and education—to well-known followers of the RSS. This was done and Bommai must be ruing the decision since neither has performed satisfactorily. This is apart from the fact that the chair of the committee, Rohit Chakratheertha, can hardly claim any credentials for this work. The minister of primary and secondary education responded to criticisms about his choice by stating that the person was an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) professor but had to backtrack when it was pointed out that this was not so and that Chakratheertha offered coaching to students aspiring to crack the IIT entrance tests.

At the best of times, preparing a textbook in history and the social sciences is a hazardous task. It is all the more so at times like the ones we are living in where there are hordes of people intent on filling young minds with their own versions of history and perspectives on society. The revision of the textbooks is in consonance with the developments taking place in the country. A question that springs up in this context is, why was there no strong opposition to the constitution of a committee that was patently full of people with dubious credentials? It looks as if progressive forces in Karnataka have been missing some cues suggestive of grave problems in their society.

In the opposition to the revised textbooks, a feature worth noticing is that practically everyone opposing the new books swears by the Constitution; they have all become, if one may coin a phrase, “constitutionalists.” Some prominent political leaders keep emphasising that textbooks ought to be in sync with the Constitution but predictably there is not even a whisper about how this can be done. While upholding the values that form the foundations of the Constitution is necessary, it is not easy to translate this into actual practice. For instance, one of the directive principles in part IV of the Constitution enjoins the state to promote “scientific temper,” but how does one prescribe tests to ascertain whether a certain policy meets the test of scientific temper or no?

The Opposition’s Role

If the present government is seen to be batting unsteadily on a sticky wicket, the opposition is not covering itself with glory either. The principal opposition party, the Congress, does not appear to be focused on the development of the state. Its leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah has not placed before the people of the state viable alternatives to the model currently in vogue. Of course, he does the routine RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bashing. And he has added to his repertoire the theme of Dravidianism as well. It would be wise of him to make note of the fact—we are sure he is aware of this—that Tamil Nadu, the centre of this doctrine, for all its progressive stands on the issue of caste does not still have a vibrant Dalit movement. Indeed, on close examination, this reveals historical differences between the Dalit and the backward components of the people in Tamil Nadu. One wishes that Siddaramaiah would realise the folly of falling into the Aryan–non-Aryan/Dravidian trap that many on the right of the political spectrum would like him to do.

Also, he is perhaps flattered by the comparisons now being made between him and the late Devaraj Urs, former chief minister (1972–80) of Karnataka who made a discernible difference to the politics of the state’s fault lines. Siddaramaiah’s claim to be the successor of Urs (to be fair, it is his followers who make this claim, not he himself) rests upon his attempt to stitch together a coalition known by the acronym “AHINDA” which translates into English as numerical minorities, backward classes, and Dalits. It requires hardly any deep inquiry to realise the fundamental difficulty of this alliance, bristling as it does with glaring contradictions.

Not appreciated is another difficulty, namely the vast differences in the social and political environments that Urs work­ed in and what Siddaramaiah confronts today. The former ruled at a time when Indira Gandhi gave the call of “Garibi Hatao”—the garibi (poverty) is still there—and the pitch was ready for the coming together of the backward classes. Also, the Congress of today is no comparison to the party that was. The issue of reservation, always a lively one in Karnataka, is witnessing new kinds of demands. One is that some sections of the backward castes are seeking a separate slot for their group. An example of this is that of the Panchamasalis who want a separate slot carved out for them in the broad category of Lingayats. Another example is the demand of the Kuruba caste for tribal status. In brief, the dialogue relating to reservation has altered a good deal from the time of Urs. Apart from the factors listed above, Urs had the advantage of a stellar analyst of reservations in L G Havanur who was the chairperson of the first Karnataka Backward Classes Commission (appointed in 1972 and whose report was given to the government in 1975). Subsequent chief ministers who wished to follow Urs and possibly improve upon him lacked the advantage of having a Havanur behind them. Similarly, the later chairpersons of Backward Classes Commissions did not enjoy the political support and acumen of a Urs.

Only very recently has Siddaramaiah thundered at the inclusion of “forward castes” in the net of reservation and called it “unconstitutional.” This is a justifiable criticism and this writer feels strongly that this category ought not to be there at all but Siddaramaiah needs some briefing on this issue. It is the Urs government that created a separate category called the “Backward Special Group” in 1977. Entry into this group is not based on caste but on economic criteria. This was in a government order which gave effect to some of the recommendations of the Havanur Commission report. Incidentally, a backward special group was not envisaged by Havanur.

Bengaluru’s Status

A major problem that the state may be compelled to confront sooner or later is the continuation of the status of Bengaluru as an information technology (IT) hub. While a constellation of factors have contributed to this stature for the city (this is not the appropriate place to analyse them), it may be worthwhile for the government as well as opposition political parties to turn their attention to the possible repercussions of the following factors on the city continuing to enjoy this status. The first is the communal disturbances that mar the state’s social landscape. A continuation of these trends may act as a deterrent to the entry of new firms into the state in the IT sector. This is likely to be compounded by the impossibly hopeless infrastructure of Bengaluru. A former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy made an honest and realistic statement a few years ago by saying that every state government must own up the responsibility for this situation. Perhaps, the one government which gave some attention to the city was the Congress under the leadership of S M Krishna (he is now with the BJP). With an M K Stalin intent on showcasing Tamil Nadu as a vibrant state—it should not be forgotten that Hosur which is developing rapidly is a Tamil Nadu town bordering Karnataka breathing down the neck of Bengaluru—and with an ambitious Chandrashekar Rao wishing to compete with Bengaluru, Karnataka would be well-advised to heed the dangers from these competitors and at the same time see the threats posed to it by its own internal problems.

A big failure in Karnataka is the education sector. Primary and secondary education continues to get short shrift as always. Higher education is virtually rudderless. While money is allotted to buildings, which are quite often unnecessary, there is a colossal dearth of teachers. New recruitment is practically non-existent. Karnataka can claim credit for a large number of single subject universities such as for folklore, veterinary and fisheries, panchayat raj and rural development, music, and Dr B R Ambedkar School of Economics University. Many languish without teachers, a glaring example being the Karnataka State Dr Gangubhai Hangal Music and Performing Arts University situated in Mysuru which does not have even one permanent faculty and operates out of a ramshackle school building.

Yet ruling and opposition parties are busy with the hijab and the needless revision of school textbooks.

 

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Updated On : 8th Aug, 2022
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