With only three days left for the campaign in Karnataka to end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is marshaling the BJP’s considerable resources to maximum use, from attacking the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to conflating Tipu Sultan with Pakistan to sharing the stage with one of the three corrupt, but highly popular, Reddy brothers from Bellary.
At Chitradurga on May 6 morning, between 11.24 am to 11.51 am, the prime minister went from accusing the Congress of “celebrating the Jayantis of Sultans,” referring to Tipu Sultan, to accusing Congress leader and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru of insulting S. Nijalingappa, a Karnataka hero who hailed from Chitradurga. “Look at the Congress’ character,” the PM added, “Whose ‘jayanti’ needs to be celebrated with respect?…Veera Madakari Onake Obavva (is) forgotten, but for the sake of vote bank politics, they are celebrating the jayantis of Sultans.”
Perhaps the PM’s speechwriters forgot their history – again. They forgot, or deliberately did not remember, that Tipu Sultan’s defeat at the hands of the East India Company in 1799, allowed the Company to expand its Raj across southern India. They forgot, or deliberately did not remember, that Tipu Sultan introduced the lunisolar calendar, a new land revenue system (which helped in the growth of the silk industry, whose bad times the PM had in another speech lamented) and is considered a pioneer in the use of rocket artillery.
It’s not clear where the PM or the BJP’s anathema against Tipu Sultan comes from. Perhaps it is because the RSS has accused Tipu of treating both Hindus and Muslims shabbily — actually, Tipu hardly differentiated between them nor the Mappila Muslims who he subordinated during his successful invasion of parts of Malabar in today’s north Kerala. Or because Tipu and his father Hyder Ali, from 1760-1799, were the commander-in-chiefs to the Hindu Wodeyar rulers of Srirangapatana and Mysore, the actual powers behind the throne. Perhaps the PM and the BJP simply resent the fact that on May 4, three days ago, the Government of Pakistan on its official Twitter handle described Tipu Sultan in glowing words as the first warrior for independence.
Whatever it is, historians acknowledge Tipu Sultan as a critical figure in the fight against the British. After his death, the British expanded Madras presidency in the east to include the Malabar, while Travancore’s stature in the west was reduced from friend and ally to “protected ally”.
Perhaps the PM wanted to kill a contemporary bird with a historical one. His reference to Onake Obavva is interesting, not only because she was the wife of an ordinary soldier in the army of Madakari Nayaka, who in 1779 was defeated by Tipu’s father Hyder Ali. Evidently, Onake Obavva’s husband was the guard in a watch-tower in the fort that Hyder Ali had attacked. Clearly, the woman was protecting her own and her ruler’s honour when she took on Hyder Ali’s forces with a Onake (pestle).
Onake Obavva was also a Dalit.
In recent months and years, the PM has aggressively sought to expand the BJP’s presence into the Scheduled Caste/Dalit framework, focusing on the Babasaheb Ambedkar project as well as project the work the BJP has done for Dalits nationwide. Despite setbacks like the Rohith Vemula suicide or Dalit protests in Una, Gujarat, no campaign is complete without a reference to the enormous respect the BJP has for Dalits.
At a rally in Bagalkot, Karnataka, the PM picked up on one of his favourite themes, which is how shabbily the Congress party treats those less privileged than itself. “The arrogance of Congress party is at its peak, a Dalit mother’s child, raised in a village became the President (Ram Nath Kovind), and it should have been their responsibility to make a courtesy call, but they did not like it. It has been a year, but Madam Soniaji did not get time to make a courtesy call to the President, her Prince (Rahul Gandhi) met the President seven months later and that too to hand over a memorandum.”
Back in Chitradurga, the PM pointed to the “nature of the Congress” to insult very senior leaders. “How can we forget the proud son of this land, Nijalingappa Ji? Why did one family insult him? Nijalingappa committed one big crime, he criticised some of the policies of (Jawarharlal Nehru). Because one family cannot tolerate independent leaders emerging in the party,” the PM said.
Modi was referring, of course, to the historic 1969 split in the Congress, between Indira Gandhi and Congress leaders like Nijalingappa, Morarji Desai, Kamraj etc. The last president of the undivided Congress, Nijalingappa was the first MP from Chitaldurg (later Chitradurga) in the first elections after Independence, subsequently becoming chief minister over two periods.
Interestingly, the Tibetan community in India flourished under the late Karnataka leader, who gave large tracts of land to Tibetans escaping from Tibet into India – they set up four large communities in Karnataka. Today, the circle seems to be closing under Modi, as Tibetans leave India for more comfortable pastures in the West.
As the campaign reaches fever pitch the next three days, the PM will be reminded of his decision to swallow the poison – by sharing the stage with Gali Somasekhara Reddy, one of the three Reddy brothers accused of widespread corruption in Bellary district – because the BJP decided that the Reddy brothers were far too influential to be given up on the anvil of anti-corruption.
The most corrupt of the three brothers, Janardhana Reddy hasn’t been given a ticket, but he can campaign. The other two, Somasekhara Reddy and Karunakara Reddy have tickets to contest. But the PM was forced to ignore their failings and focus on the Congress: “Sonia Gandhi promised a Rs 3000-crore package for Bellary, but forgot…Despite all the natural resources at its command, Bellary hasn’t been able to develop because of the government in Bengaluru…” the PM said.
The stakes for a “Congress-mukt Bharat” are high. Over the last few days, the PM has coined a new abbreviation, the “PPP Congress”, standing for the “Punjab, Puducherry, Parivar Congress.” Only one week stands between the Prime Minister and his declaration.