June 23, 2022 11:38:29 am
To demand the withdrawal of new school textbooks for social sciences and Kannada in Karnataka, an outfit called the Universal Humanity and Kuvempu Agitation Forum organised a protest meeting in Bengaluru on June 18. But the presence of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and state Congress president D K Shivakumar at the meeting gave political undertones to an event that was supposed to be non-political in nature.
Both 89-year-old Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) and Shivakumar, 60, are from the Vokkaliga community. Their presence on a common platform holds significance for state politics ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections as it came even as their parties are vying for Vokkaliga support in south Karnataka and the ruling BJP is attempting to make inroads into the community with its Hindutva and pro-development agenda.
The support of the Vokkaliga community in south Karnataka and the Lingayats in north Karnataka is considered to be among the key factors for political parties to establish a clear majority in state elections. In recent years, Vokkaliga support has been firmly behind the JD(S) and Deve Gowda is considered to be the community’s patriarch. This has resulted in state elections not throwing up a clear majority for any party in 2004, 2008, and 2018.
While Deve Gowda’s son and former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, 62, is seen as a natural heir to his father’s position, Shivakumar, who has until now enjoyed only limited popularity in the community and south Karnataka, is attempting to establish himself as the alternative leader of the Vokkaligas.
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What brought the community patriarch and the aspirant to a common forum was the alleged insult to poet and writer K V Putappa or Kuvempu that happened during the school textbook revision process carried out by a committee headed by writer Rohith Chakrathirtha. Kuvempu is a Vokkaliga and Karnataka icon.
“Karnataka should be the land of Basavanna, Kanakadasa, Shishunalla Sharif, and Kuvempu. All communities must be taken along. Our thinkers and reformers have all been insulted. Nobody can tolerate this cutting across political lines. We have to protect the heritage of the state and that is why we are protesting,” Shivakumar said at the June 18 event after tearing a copy of a new school textbook.
Deve Gowda chided Shivakumar for venting his anger on a book and offered all support to the protesters to correct the damage caused by the new textbooks. In a letter to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai written this week on behalf of the protesters at the June 18 event, the former PM said, “The chairman of the textbook revision committee has insulted the state poet Kuvempu. He has also insulted the state poet by offering a reward for twisting the words in the state song in an obscene manner.”
He went on to say, “The first mistake by the government was to entrust the revision of school textbooks to such a person. The number of mistakes committed in the revision of the textbooks is numerous. The picture of Kuvempu has been removed from the social sciences textbook.”
Kuvempu is considered to be among the greatest Kannada poets and in 1967 became the first Kannada writer to win the Jnanpith Award. He died in 1999. He has been honoured as a Rashtrakavi (national poet) and a Karnataka Ratna (gem). His poem “Jaya Bharatiya Tanujate” was adopted as the state anthem in 2004. It describes Karnataka as a daughter of India and a garden of peace for all communities.
While different aspects of school textbook revision have rankled different communities, the perceived insults caused to Kuvempu have not gone down well in the Vokkaliga community. Earlier the top seer of the Adichunchanagiri Math of the Vokkaligas, Nirmalananda Swami, sought an explanation about the revisions. Education minister B C Nagesh personally briefed the seer on the issue. Though the seer did not participate in the protests last week, a junior seer did.
The textbook controversy has also served to unite the JD(S) and the Congress that otherwise compete for Vokkaliga support. While Deve Gowda has been the foremost leader of the Vokkaligas since former Congress leader S M Krishna (now with the BJP) was eclipsed years ago, Shivakumar, who is Krishna’s protege, has been a challenger for a while to fill the big political shoes of the former PM. The Deve Gowda family and Shivakumar have been engaged in direct and bitter political battles in south Karnataka constituencies for several decades.
While Shivakumar has not directly defeated Deve Gowda in any election, he gave the former PM a close fight in a 2002 bypoll in the erstwhile Kanakapura Lok Sabha seat before defeating Gowda in the 2004 Lok Sabha poll through first-time candidate Tejaswini Ramesh (now with the BJP).
Deve Gowda subsequently moved to his home region of Hassan to contest the Lok Sabha polls while Shivakumar has been dominant in the Kanakapura and the erstwhile Sathanur regions (now part of the Bengaluru Rural and Mandya constituencies).
However, the political influence of Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy is more widespread across the Vokkaliga community and Karnataka compared to Shivakumar’s predominant influence in the Bengaluru Rural region. Shivakumar is attempting to change this situation and emerge as a more influential Vokkaliga leader ahead of next year’s polls.
The bitter rivalry that existed at one time between the Gowda family and Shivakumar has in fact receded to a large extent, with Shivakumar working closely with Kumaraswamy when the JD(S) leader was the chief minister in a Congress-JDS coalition government that was in power from 2018 to 2019.
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