By Rejecting Hindutva, Yediyurappa Underlines a Historical Truth About South India

Unlike in North India, religion-based conquests or ideologies were not seen largely in South India. This characteristic of the South makes it difficult for the hardline Hindutva of the North to spread in the region.

The answer to the question as to why no South Indian ruler ever made any attempt to conquer North India and finish off the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals lies somewhere in the statement made on April 14 by former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa. The former chief minister said that he would not support the issues of hijab and halal, calling the controversies that rocked his state “unnecessary”. He added that Hindus and Muslims should “live like brothers and sisters”.

Barring a couple of occasions, history shows that no South Indian monarch, even of the ancient period, ever tried to extend the empire to the North, though several of the rulers of the Indo-Gangetic plain – be it Mauryas, Guptas, or even Mughals – launched military expeditions deep into the South. Instead, the South Indian kingdoms preferred to send their armies and navies to Sri Lanka and faraway islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.

Little space for communal polarisation

Coming back to Yediyurappa, the four-time chief minister made it amply clear that communal polarisation is not going to work in the upcoming elections in Karnataka. What he left unsaid is that the people of Karnataka do not always approve of the politico-religious ideology of North India even though it is a fact that he led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power for the first time in 2008.

What Yediyurappa wants to convey is that it is his brand of BJP and not that of Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat then, which paved the way for the victory of his party in Karnataka in 2008. It is another thing that in the initial years the saffron party would introduce him in public rallies outside Karnataka as Narendra Modi of the South. That was the time when the BJP was out of power at the Centre and was losing grip in several states.

Also read: With a Bitter Rivalry Within, the BJP in Karnataka Looks Different From Everywhere Else

Incidentally, the BJP lost the election of 2013 two years after he was forced to step down from the post of chief minister following the indictment by Lokayukt. Serious corruption charges were levelled against him and his ministers. Though his Karnataka Janata Paksha could win only six seats, it certainly paved the way for the rout of BJP.

However, on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, he merged his party with the BJP. This once again led to the spectacular performance by the saffron party.

In the 2018 assembly poll, the BJP, with 104 seats in the House of 224, emerged as the single largest party. As Yediyurappa always seeks his own pound of flesh, the saffron party is still giving him so much importance even though he is now 80. Besides, he is still considered the most respected Lingayat leader.

A close study of the history of South India would reveal that though the people here eagerly accepted secular ideologies like socialism and communism, they find it difficult to embrace the North Indian version of hardline Hindutva. Even today, the BJP is banking heavily on the support of Lingayat votes though the founder of this sect Basaveshwara in the 12th century opposed idol worship. A section of Lingayats, who form 15-16% of Karnataka’s population, demands separate religious status for their community. Even Yediyurappa adopted social democracy and not Hindutva as the basic philosophy of his erstwhile Karnataka Janata Paksha.

Lack of religious motivation

The religious factor did not work in motivating the Hindu rulers of South India to launch a campaign against the Muslim empires of North India. The Delhi Sultanate was replaced by Babur, essentially a chieftain from far away Samarkand, in 1526. In between Timur, also from Central Asia, conquered Delhi during the reign of Nasiruddin Mehmood Tughlaq in 1398. Even the pre-Islamic Mongols under Genghis Khan and Greek emperor Alexander had in mind the plan to conquer Delhi, but they had to return from Punjab. They all had learnt a lot about the fertile Northern Indian Plain.

The only army from beyond Satpura Range to reach Delhi and North was that of the Marathas of West Central India, but they were forced to retreat after the Third Battle of Panipat with Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1761.

Rise of Sikhism

In contrast, a new religion emerged to challenge the Mughal domination in North India. This was Sikhism, whose rise almost coincided with the arrival of the Mughals under Babur. The struggle between the two continued till the reign of Aurangzeb. By the time of the partition of India in 1947, Sikhs formed about 13% of the population of undivided Punjab.

However, Muslims formed a substantial population in undivided Bengal and Kerala, where their armies reached the last. Traders, seafarers, and preachers are largely responsible for the conversion towards Islam. In fact, Muslims from Arabia reached the coastal region of Kerala and even Karnataka much before the invasion of Sind by Mohammad Bin Qasim in 711-12. Unlike North India, there was little impact of post-Partition riots in South India.

The only aberration was the Nizam of Hyderabad’s flirtations with Pakistan, which was put to an end by the Indian Army’s Operation Polo. The BJP always tries to cash in on this in present-day Telangana. But the saffron party fails to explain its stand on the Nizam of the 18th century, who sided with the Marathas and the British against Tipu Sultan, who still has a lot of Hindu admirers in Karnataka. Yediyurappa’s message needs to be looked at in this background – as a reminder by the senior BJP leader to the saffron party’s top leadership that hardline Hindutva could backfire in regions like Karnataka.

Soroor Ahmed is a Patna-based freelance journalist.