Two BJP Lawmakers Call Karnataka Ban on Muslim Traders 'Undemocratic,' 'Madness'

'I cannot understand on what basis they are targeting Muslim vendors and businesses. This is a very sorry state of affairs,' MLC A.H. Vishwanath has said.

New Delhi: Two Bharatiya Janata Party legislators in Karnataka have now given voice to the backlash against Muslim traders being banned from doing business in temple festivals – highlights in traders’ calendars – after pressure from Hindutva groups.

Member of Legislative Council Adagur H. Vishwanath and Member of Legislative Assembly Anil Benake’s criticism comes after the BJP government in Karnataka announced in the state assembly on March 23 that “non-Hindus are not allowed to do business in and around temple premises.”

Indian Express has reported that Vishwanath has called the restrictions on Muslim traders “madness” and stressed, “No God or religion preaches these kinds of things. Religions are inclusive and not exclusive.”

In a powerful rebuttal to religion-based discrimination, Vishwanath also expressed disappointment with the state government remaining silent on the issue. He has said that this move is “undemocratic”.

A former president of the Karnataka unit of the Janata Dal (Secular), Vishwanath has been an MLA thrice. An Other Backward Classes leader and Kannada author, he joined the BJP in 2019, during the takeover of the H.D. Kumaraswamy government by BJP’s Yediyurappa. He is a nominated MLC.

“How many Indians are working in Muslim countries? If these countries decide to act against us, where will all this end up… Muslims in India chose to live in India when the partition of India and Pakistan occurred. They did not go with Jinnah. We must ponder on this, they remained here to be Indians. They are Indians, not people of some other nationality…I cannot understand on what basis they are targeting Muslim vendors and businesses. This is a very sorry state of affairs. The government must take action or there will be a reaction from the people,” Vishwanath is also quoted as having said.

Speaking from Mysuru, Vishwanath also said that people need livelihoods to feed themselves. “If there is no means of livelihood then what is the point of democracy, religion, caste…throw it all away. When there is no means to buy food, what are we searching for in this world,” he said.

The other BJP leader who spoke out against the ban on Muslim traders is Anil Benake, an MLA from Muslim-majority Belagavi North constituency.

Benake said that he was not in favour of or would not allow these restrictions to be imposed. “It is wrong to say that people should purchase only in some stores and not in other stores. Under the constitution, everybody has equal rights,” he said.

Reports of Muslim traders and stall owners being evicted from temple fares by Hindutva groups have come in from various places in Karnataka.

Many temples in Karnataka hold festivals at this time, which draw traders of all backgrounds. Muslim traders are among those who set up stalls at these functions. Except this year, there have been pitched efforts from Hindutva groups to prevent their participation. Placards barring Muslim traders came up outside many temple premises whereas some festival organisers gave tenders to Hindutva groups themselves.

As this controversy unfolded, Karnataka law minister J.C. Madhuswamy told the state assembly that non-Hindus are not allowed to do business in and around the premises of Hindu temples, citing provisions of the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (HCRE) Act, 2002.

The Congress leaders, while raising the issue, had urged the government to step in, alleging that the people putting up the posters were trying to divide the community along religious lines.