Vijayanagara in Bengaluru

The big fat Reddy wedding has underlined the privatisation of the public in Karnataka.

Written by Janaki Nair | Published:November 30, 2016 12:02 am
  Reddy wedding, Janardhan Reddy, Vijayanagara, indian temples, karnataka temples, Brahmini, wedding expenditure, bengaluru temples, southern Indian politics, Chalukyan,   big fat Reddy wedding, Monarchical powers, demonetisation, black money, Reddy wedding probe, fake temple-building, indian history, indian express news, india news, indian express opinion Gali Janardhan Reddy’s daughter Brahmani Reddy married Rajeev Reddy, son of Andhra businessman Panyam Vikram Deva Reddy, who has mining interests in Africa. (Source: File)

Time was, when south Indian monarchs built temples to commemorate their political victories, their changes of religious allegiance, their command of agrarian economies. Sometimes they were acts of piety as well. From the Gangas, Hoysalas and Chalukyas, down to principalities such as that of the Wodeyars, the temple was the monumental “gift of power,” as historian James Heitzman said about the Cholas. Into its fretted stone or towering gopuram was hewn the grandeur of triumph. Sometimes, when idols were the spoils of war, they took new life in distant homes: Chikkadevaraja in 1675, flushed with military successes to the north, south and east of Mysore, “removed” the idol of Shweta Varahaswamy from Srimushna to its new location in Srirangapatna; in 1809 it found a new home in Mysore.

The Karnataka people, in short, are spoilt for choice in monumental grandeur. Former chief minister Kengal Hanumanthaiah was mindful of this heritage in choosing Chalukyan motifs for Bengaluru’s Vidhana Soudha, that quintessential symbol of representative democracy.

Monarchical symbols of power have held an irresistible attraction for many in contemporary southern Indian politics. Given the special place occupied by cine-politics in exaggerating the power of southern matinee idols, there has been a doubling of these spectacles, both as cinema and as politics. Jayalalithaa learned, at great political cost, that such spectacles can be counter-productive when she lost the election following her sponsorship of the ostentatious wedding of her foster son and Shashikala’s son in 1995. Since then, she has taken to the more productive path of bestowing more durable gifts on citizens, and thus ensured lasting adoration. At a time of massive withdrawal by the state from social security programmes, these schemes serve as new redistributive mechanisms.

No such redistribution was envisaged when Janardhan Reddy staged the massive wedding of his daughter Brahmini. The obvious contrast with the sufferings of the hoi polloi following demonetisation has distracted from the event itself and its possible meanings for our public life. In the cacophonous clucking of tongues about this extravagance in the midst of obvious misery, we missed an important voice, that of Karnataka’s health minister, Ramesh Kumar, who called for a cap on wedding expenditure. In this, he paid, perhaps unwittingly, obeisance to another of Mysore’s — now much maligned — monarchs, Tipu Sultan, who, in his many efforts to redraw social life in his kingdom, also attempted to limit extravagant wedding expenses.

Kumar’s voice may sound like Rip van Winkle’s at a time when consumption is not only good, but a patriotic duty. But Kumar must be recalled for another more important remark that he made in passing, when he said that today, the private has become the public, and the public, private. For many people, a wedding is the most familial of all events. But it has periodically erupted into public view as a time to declare wealth, display power, flaunt political connections, and indulge in sheer fantasy. This pot-latch of Reddy, this symbolic burning of wealth, picked its symbols well in recreating Hampi’s Vittala temple, and Tirupati’s Tirumala Devasthana, one a UNESCO heritage site, and the other one of the most powerful corporations in southern India.

The setting itself was important. Bengaluru’s Palace Grounds have been, for some time, the site of ostentatious weddings. The “public” here has long become “private”, since these grounds, which have already been distributed between various Wodeyar heirs, despite the state’s legislative takeover of the space, epitomise the compromised nature of state power. The temporary theme park erected at the Palace Grounds included some of Ballari’s landmarks, haunted by memories of a better time. A new kind of heroism revels in the flagrant abuse of all standards of decency but also declares the divided sovereignty that is a feature of contemporary India. The ease with which public became private in Ballari since 1999 (and the state lost Rs 16,000 crore in revenue) was matched only by the devastation that Reddy wrought on the region. The simulacrum in Bengaluru was necessary not only because Reddy has been exiled from the region that he ravaged; it was his insouciant thumbing of the nose at those who ended his reign of terror at Ballari. The wedding reasserted Reddy as one who made the public into private, and now placed that illegitimately won private sphere on display. He demonstrated that he continues to straddle both licit and illicit forms of power.

In this sense, Reddy’s actions may be placed alongside other shows of extra-legal power from an assortment of actors ranging from Shahabuddin to the Shiv Sena. Reddy’s public assertion of financial power, at which the IT department, much like the police in the Hindi film, arrived too late, was not only his claim to continued relevance in the political realm. He also reclaimed the power of the neighbourhood tough in that forever reddened earth of Ballari.

The fake temple-building cannot be mistaken for even temporary piety. If he once placated his conscience by donating to Tirupati, Reddy thought nothing of blasting the Sugalamma temple at Ballari to recover the ore in the ground beneath. Nor did the strings of pearls that adorned the neck of Reddy recall the monarchs of Mysore/Karnataka. Coming at a time when the government has placed the entire Indian people under the shadow of criminality for wanting to access their own money, the robber-baron’s return to public life is a garish reminder of the continued importance that extra-legal power enjoys in our public life. It also personifies Raghuram Rajan’s observation at Davos, that the Indian state is getting the reputation of going after the small and the defenceless, while letting big fish get away. That has been the enduring legacy of colonialism, and for so long has been a staple of our democracy. It is perhaps this aspect of contemporary India that Ramesh Kumar was trying to warn us about.

The writer teaches history at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU

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  1. S
    SubbuI
    Nov 30, 2016 at 6:48 am
    BECAUCE YOU ARE FRON JNU YOU ARE ANTI NATIONAL AND YOUR VIEWS ARE AGAINST NATION AND ITS UNDISPUTED LEADERlt;br/gt;BECAUCE YOU QUESTION A PATICULAR IDEOLAGY YOU ARE NOT APATRIOT lt;br/gt;BECAUCE YOU SAY THE WRONG IS WRONG YOU ARE A TRAITOR lt;br/gt;BECAUCE YOU ARE ASK QUESTIONS YOU ARE A DESH DROHIlt;br/gt;SO KEEP QUITE AND SAY HAIL MODI
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    1. S
      SubbuI
      Nov 30, 2016 at 6:40 am
      REFORMER NALAYAK NMODI NEVER UTTERED A WORD ABOUT THIS 550 CRORES WEDDING ON THE DAY SEVEN PEOLE DIED IN LINING IN OUE FOR CHANGING OR WITH DRAWING 2000RS OF THEIR OWN MONEYlt;br/gt;THIS DICTATOR SPOKE ABOUT BLACL MONEY ON 7 OCCASIONS AFTER THE BIG WEDDING OF A PARTY COLLEAGUE A CONVICT.THIS IS THE REAL REFORM IS IT NOT?
      Reply
      1. V
        Venu
        Nov 30, 2016 at 7:23 am
        Super. Enlightened approach. lt;br/gt;H.s.iyer
        Reply
        1. K
          K SHESHU
          Nov 30, 2016 at 3:10 pm
          He left demonetisation to ' gali' ! ( Wind)
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          1. B
            B. SRIDHAR
            Nov 30, 2016 at 5:01 am
            We cant expect sense from a JNU teacher. They believe in what EMS famously said 'WE HAVE TO KEEP THE PEOPLE POOR'. The lefts standing examples are West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala a state which is living on alms from deposits from the middle east! Having said that, Reddy is an individual. How he made money, how he spends, whether it is accounted or not, is all for the agencies to see and it has been reported that the IT sleuths are indeed examining the expenditure, a report that none in MSM will do it because of thier own axe to grind against the current establishment. Is this the first fat wedding happened in India! No. Then why the hue and cry! Because Reddy is a man the leftists despise because he is spending his own money. The government of the day in Karnataka is of Congress, and there is a state Anti Corruptin Burueau which could have easily investigated Reddys. But none of the whiners had pointed a finger at the establishment of the state but are all crying and indicting BJP and the Centre. In fact it is the central agencies which have taken note of and launched an investigation! For those who believe in liberty and indpendence, a man is free to spend his earnings in whatever way he wants to, as long as the money is accounted for. If we go by the logic of the author that Reddy is spending at a time when the entire nation is in chaos of demonetization (though I dont believe their argument), should not the opposition leaders allow the Parliament tofunction and p the bill declaring stan a terror state? And that too after we have lost 2 officers and 5 jawans!
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            1. V
              Vishnu Bhat
              Nov 30, 2016 at 9:56 am
              My thoughts almost exactly mirror this article. and Raghuram Rajan was wise enough to leave. Those of us left behind must ensure things change for the better.
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              1. I
                indian
                Dec 5, 2016 at 3:58 am
                Someday our dear PM shall speak about this garish display by his ex-partymates.
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                1. N
                  Niladrinath Mohanty
                  Nov 30, 2016 at 4:11 am
                  All Ms.Nair wanted to say was that Mr. Reddy was corrupt and has corrupted many. I shall narrate a conversation I had today during morning walk with a retired district judge. He told me that the plot where he has built a house and staying at present was given to him by his brother from his discretionary quota(his brother had quota of seven plots). When I asked him whether it amounted to nepotism and corruption he said no and challenged me - how did I get the plot where I stay. When I said I had nobody to help and I got it in the normal course he did not believe. This is the extent of roots of corruption has spread.
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                  1. H
                    heena
                    Nov 30, 2016 at 5:35 am
                    These communist lobby have one thing in common is to hate the deed of Hindus. When big lavish is spent in UP for the birth day celebrations what these rogue are doing. When the currency note are demonetised these same looting rogues are with the looters. It is very clear they does not wanted follow consution and and they their way is highway. These use less people are the thorns in the peace loving citizen. If he spend money on his daughter wedding, He had money accounted in the books of consutional machinery. What is wrong. If you had proof of wrong doing please file a complaint in the jurisdictional police station.If you had a sympathy for the poor which you have pretended to be kept for long time then dole your money for them. Do not write article which is far from reality.
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                    1. A
                      Avinash
                      Nov 30, 2016 at 2:00 am
                      I read somewhere that the central government spooks r looking into the extravaganza the Reddys have displa to 'solemnize' the wedding. It does not sound like the Reddys will get away without facing consequences. Why is this JNU Prof being so perfidious in her term paper?
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                      1. A
                        A.RAJAMOHAN
                        Nov 30, 2016 at 6:27 am
                        Many cannot even understand this article. Hence the comments are irrelevant. The problem of this Indian Union is 'Hinduism'. I congratulate the author.
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                        1. R
                          r
                          Nov 30, 2016 at 3:01 am
                          Janaki Nair goes on and on and on .. and induces yawn !!! Well .. lot of things that you said can be said in much simpler words and smaller sentences .. and you may be right about most of the things ... but to compare "Tirupati’s Tirumala Devasthana" to a " most powerful corporations in southern India. .. " is really hurting madam.. it shows all your rotten communist ideology and anti-hindu bias out in the open. It is these kind of biases and statements from leftists communists like you that took you away from mes.. not that you people cared for them in the first place.
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                          1. T
                            Thrinethran T
                            Nov 30, 2016 at 6:23 am
                            So: We are to infer that the Reddy grotesque , etc. exonerate the atrocities, including ethnic cleansing in Malabar, of the author's heroes, the Mysore Sultans?!!!
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