‘Subaltern Hindutva’ Is Gaining Ground – BJP’s Victories in Vijayapura, Kollegal Are Proof

The saffron party has built a vote bank by manipulating the insecurities of the most downtrodden of the Hindus while protecting the supremacy of the 'upper' castes.

The recent bypoll results all over the country have once again proved the growing power of the political narrative, social engineering and “subaltern Hindutva” ideological consolidation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Sangh parivar.

Going by their vision and mission, this strategy of the Sangh seems to comprise three elements:

1) Social and cultural patronage to the militant strata of marginalised Hindu castes;

2) Political consolidation on the Hindutva agenda with overt anti-Muslim politics;

3) Electoral representation for the most neglected but numerically important “Hindu” castes, while keeping the hegemony and domination of the ‘upper’ castes intact.

The results of the elections held for the newly constituted Vijayapura City Municipal Corporation (VCMC) and the by-elections for seven wards in Kollegal City Municipal Council (KCMC), proved the efficacy of this strategy in Karnataka.

These results assume strategic importance for two reasons. First, the BJP not only achieved a thumping victory in both places, but it did so by adopting the “Subaltern-Hindutva” strategy. Second, the Congress, the main opposition in Vijayapura, which had raised hopes in the state through its Bharat Jodo Yatra against the hate politics of Hindutva, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the declared anti-Manuvadi party in Kollegal, could not offer a political challenge to the BJP’s strategy.

Thus, these results cannot be considered the routine flip-flop of political parties at the polls. Rather, they demonstrate the kind of social engineering politics that may be unveiled in the state in the coming election year.

Hindu-ising the syncretic

Vijayapura, earlier called Bijapur, had been the capital city of the Muslim Adil Shahi rulers of the Bahamani Sultanate. Though the Adil Shahi rule in Karnataka was known for its pluralistic and syncretic social and cultural life, the changing political milieu only highlights the Muslim origin of the rulers and the syncretism is described as a shameful past and the result of invasions by aliens.

The name ‘Bijapur’ was changed to Vijayapura in 2014, immediately after the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre. The city had been granted a corporation in 2013, but the existing elected body had been allowed to complete its period, which ended in 2018. Due to delimitation and other exercises, the elections for the Vijayapura City Municipal Corporation (VCMC) were held only in October 2022.

Also read: Aggressive Hindutva in Karnataka Is Unsurprising; It Has Been 25 Years in the Making

Bijapur city has one of the highest densities of Muslim voters in the state and has been electing Muslim representatives to the assembly and local institutions, mainly from the Congress party.

After Modi came to power at the Centre based on the aggressive Hindutva plank, the local BJP followed suit. This was advocated through the open affirmation of the BJP as a Hindus-only party, the public denial of the need for Muslim votes and a political resolution to not field Muslim candidates.

This strategy yielded results even in the 2018 assembly elections. In the previous assembly elections held in 2013, Bijapur had elected Congress candidate Maqbul Bagwan with 48,615 votes, whereas Basangouda Yatnal, who had then contested on a Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) ticket, got only 39,235 votes.

Considered an aggressive Hindutvavadi, Yatnal joined the BJP just prior to the 2018 assembly elections and fired up communal passion, which successfully polarised Hindu voters. This fetched him 76,308 votes, twice the number he had received in 2013, and an electoral victory with a margin of over 6,000 votes.

Manuvadi social engineering

The same template was followed in the VCMC elections.

The new VCMC has 35 seats. Under the leadership of the sitting member of the legislative assembly (MLA) Yatnal, the BJP contested in only 33 seats, having decided not to field Muslim candidates in two Muslims-only wards. The Congress contested all the 35 wards and fielded 17 Muslim candidates along with 18 others.

This time, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the Social Democratic Party of India also competed with the Congress for Muslim votes. The other parties in the fray were the JD(S), the Aam Aadmi Party, the Karnataka Rashtra Samithi (KRS) and several political party rebels contesting as independents.

Out of the 33 Hindu candidates fielded by the BJP, a good number were from ‘upper’ and dominant castes like the Lingayats, Brahmins, Rajputs and Kshatriyas, as well as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) like the Kurubas, the Balegaras, and so on. But the BJP also gave seats to some of the most marginalised sections of Hindu society, including nomads and semi-nomads, like the Harina Shikari tribe.

Among the Scheduled Castes (SCs), while the BJP gave three seats to ‘touchable’ castes like the Bhovi and the Lambani, it also gave a seat to the Mang Garudi community, which is backward even among the SCs. It gave another seat to the Madigas, who are fighting for the internal reclassification of SC reservation and are furious with the Congress for not implementing the Sadashiva Commission which had recommended internal reclassification.

The Congress, on the other hand, had only 18 seats to be distributed among Hindus and did not give any of them to the Madigas.

This Hindutva-crafted, meticulous social engineering strategy of the BJP gave the party fulsome results. For the first time in the history of city local body elections, the BJP won 17 out of the 33 seats it contested and emerged as the single biggest party in the corporation. Had it won one more seat, it would have been in the majority. The Congress won only 10 seats and the AIMIM won two seats. The KRS and AAP were not considered by the Vijayapura electorate.

With 17 seats in the local municipality, the BJP is now flooded with offers from independents and the lone JD(S) corporator to either join the saffron party or extend their support to it. Thus, the BJP is all set to come to power in the first VCMC.

Co-opting the subaltern

The victory of the BJP could be put down to myriad reasons, including the lavish use of money power. Like the other parties, even the BJP had to contend with infighting, or so, Yatnal claimed. But unlike the victories or defeats of the Congress and the other parties, the victory of the BJP has an ideological basis.

This ideology is “Subaltern Hindutva” which is being used as an instrument to forge a permanent Hindu vote bank that will “elect a Hindu Rashtra” and thus subvert the constitution and secular democracy.

The subaltern groups are the Dalits, nomads and the lowest sections of the OBCs, who are pauperised as communities. A section of these communities is also lumpenised by the elitist economic policies of the BJP government. Yet, they are being lured by the venomous communal politics of the BJP-Sangh parivar. The Sangh provides them with a semblance of political agency, some kind of status and also protection from the law in their traditional businesses, which sometimes cross the barriers of legality.

Also read: Why Hindutva Is a Racist Supremacism – Not Merely Communalism or Majoritarianism

In a political situation where the politics and the organisation of parties like the Congress have never allowed these communities even notional power, the minimal and selective accommodation offered by the BJP inculcates a feeling of inclusion, even though it is in the lowest order of a Brahminical hierarchy.

In cities like Bijapur that were ruled by Muslim kings, there will always be the possibility of misrepresenting historical facts to generate community-based antagonism against Muslim rule and in turn, Muslims. Yatnal is a master in this craft. The rest of the job will be successfully completed by the organs of the Sangh parivar that work around the clock to fire these passions and politically consolidate electoral support into an ideological mass base.

The Sangh parivar’s paternalistic politics do not allow the rise of the subaltern Hindu against the hierarchy. But the rise of new, “empowered” subaltern leaders can be used to protect the social hierarchy, physically, politically and ideologically.

This is the story behind the growth of Hindutva in the Hindi heartland. In Karnataka, the results of the VCMC elections have once again proved the power of this strategy.

Hindutva juggernaut in Kollegal

Quite apart from the Hindutva subaltern strategy, the Congress is in a predicament of its own making. Muslim votes are divided among different contenders, weakening the support base of the Congress due to its own opportunist politics of pragmatic communalism. In fact, the elite organisation culture has utterly failed to ignite hope either among the Hindu downtrodden or the oppressed Muslims.

Even the bypolls for the seven wards in the Kollegal City Municipal Council (KCMC) held on October 28 provide testimony for the Congress party’s – and the BSP’s – inherent political inability to counter the BJP’s electoral machine.

The by-election for seven wards in the KCMC was necessitated by the disqualification of seven members elected on BSP tickets for refusing to follow the party whip of not supporting the BJP in the council after their leader, the local MLA, N. Mahesh, defected to the BJP.

Though Mahesh has degenerated into an opportunist politician, he had been the ideological mentor of thousands of Dalit youth against Manuvadi politics and Manuvadi parties all over Karnataka, and especially, in Kollegal.

Kollegal has also been considered one of the strong political bases of the BSP. Though Mahesh was elected on a BSP ticket only in the 2018 assembly elections and polled more than 70,000 votes, the BSP has been garnering more than 20,000 votes regularly in the last few elections. Thus, even in the Kollegal CMC, the BSP could win seven wards.

Thus, the KCMC by-election was the first opportunity to learn whether the people of Kollegala would punish Mahesh for not only shifting his political master, but also his ideological allegiance to the BJP and the Sangh parivar. To judge by his recent advocacy, it seems as though he has been given the ideological task of harmonising and hybridising the thoughts of Savarkar and Ambedkar.

Out of the seven wards where by-elections were held, six wards re-elected former BSP candidates who contested on BJP tickets. Further, the BSP, which fought the BJP in three wards, was pushed into oblivion. In ward No. 7, for example, where the BJP won with 491 votes out of 999, defeating its closest Congress candidate by 200 votes, the BSP got only five votes – as did the NOTA or ‘none of the above’ option! Earlier, the same candidate on the BSP ticket had got 383 votes.

Likewise, in ward No. 21, the BJP won with 556 votes out of 1,076, defeating its nearest rival by 63 votes. The BSP candidate got only 13 votes – just eight votes more than the NOTA option. Earlier, the BSP had received 591 votes in this ward.

In ward No. 25, the BJP obtained 201 of 425 votes polled, defeating its nearest Congress rival by 42 votes. The BSP got only four votes here. In the previous election, the BSP candidate had obtained 162 seats.

In sum, while the BSP had earlier obtained 1,136 votes in the three wards it contested this time, it could procure only 22 votes! It was a complete electoral rout in a constituency that was believed to be the ideological base of the anti-Manuvadi politics of the BSP.

Defeating an elected ‘Hindu Rashtra’?

Even though it is obvious that ‘upper’ or dominant caste voters who backed the BJP would rather vote for a Dalit candidate fielded by the BJP than one fielded by the BSP, the larger question is this: How could even traditional BSP voters – people politically cultivated over decades – desert the BSP ideologically and vote for the Manuvadi BJP?

Neither the Congress, nor the BSP, nor for that matter any other electoral party in the fray, seems to have the vision and strategy to counter this hegemony. The results of these elections thus signify the lengthening tentacles of the Hindutva ideology in Karnataka and indicate the direction of the wind in the coming assembly and parliament elections.

The BJP, with the support of the Sangh parivar, has built this Hindutva vote bank by manipulating the existential insecurities of the most downtrodden of the Hindus while catering to and protecting the social supremacy of the ‘upper’ castes. Subaltern Hindu representation will be meticulously manipulated by the Sangh. Thus, the Hindu vote bank will be further consolidated, which would electorally usher in a fascist Hindu Rashtra.

Though the Bharat Jodo Yatras brought a feeling of hope and secular comfort at an abstract level to a certain section of society who are fed up with hate politics, at the concrete level, it is an absolute truth that Congress leaders and their politics are elitist in nature, failing to impart any feeling of inclusivity among subaltern Hindus.

This Hindutva hegemony cannot be defeated overnight or by existing politics and political parties. It can only be defeated by grassroots level alternate and egalitarian political and organisational mobilisation; by according political agency to all the oppressed; by shedding all kinds of paternalistic and hegemonic politics and cultures. Till this arrives, India might have to pass through darker times.