Anantkumar Hegde is back in the news. In a predictable way, that is. First, the Union minister of state for skill development and entrepreneurship sparked outrage with comments at a public function in his home state Karnataka: “If a Hindu girl is touched by a hand, then that hand should not exist.” Next, his Twitter exchange with Karnataka Congress’s working president Dinesh Gundu Rao attracted more indignation.
Polarising comments, to be sure, are par-for-the-course in election season. But Hegde’s proclivity for them has raked up controversies in the past. Most notably, in December 2017, when he had to apologise in the Lok Sabha for his remarks—made at a public rally in Karnataka—about changing the Constitution. “As a citizen, I cannot think of violating the Constitution,” he said in his apology.
Earlier this week, following the Twitter volley with Rao, the Congressman’s wife, Tabassum, put out a plea, asking Hegde not to drag their personal life into a political slugfest.
I shall definitely answer this guy @dineshgrao's queries, before which could he please reveal himself as to who he is along with his achievements?— Anantkumar Hegde (@AnantkumarH) January 27, 2019
I only know him as a guy who ran behind a Muslim lady. https://t.co/8hVJ2wQXMU
Hegde, 50, is a five-time parliamentarian from the coastal district of Uttara Kannada—he wrested the seat in 1996 from Congress veteran Margaret Alva and has won every election there since. He came into the limelight as an RSS worker in the early 1990s when he—along with two other activists—hoisted the national flag in Hubli’s disputed Idgah Maidan at the height of the controversy over ownership of the land, which was one of Karnataka’s long-running communally sensitive issues.
Two years ago, Hegde made the headlines when he slapped a doctor at a hospital in Sirsi, a town in his constituency. Some months ago, he annoyed Janata Dal (Secular) workers, calling their party a putgosi (loincloth). In protest, they sent him some.
“If a Hindu girl is touched by a hand, then that hand should not exist.”
Anantkumar Hegde, Union minister
Despite Hegde’s seniority as a parliamentarian, his induction into the Union cabinet in September 2017 had apparently come as a surprise to fellow-partymen in Karnataka who were expecting a Lingayat leader to be chosen, given that the state was heading into assembly elections at the time. Hegde is a Brahmin while the BJP’s support base in the southern state is largely dependent on the Lingayat community. “As a politician, he has not been in the centre-stage in Karnataka,” says a BJP leader. “But, for that matter, many parliamentarians too play only a peripheral role in state politics given the local dynamics.”
Along Karnataka’s coast and adjoining districts such as Shimoga, the BJP’s fortunes saw a revival last year, thanks largely to its Hindutva plank —the party swept 16 of the 19 assembly seats in the May 2018 elections leaving the Congress only three. This was a turnaround from five years ago when the BJP, despite its strong party network in this region, had fared badly. Issues such as ‘Love Jihad’ are staple political fare in the coastal districts which, in the months leading to state elections, had become a hotbed for communal tension.
Hegde, says a journalist, has a degree of popularity among the youth in the region. A strident stand on Islam marks his political speeches. Last week, his comment about protecting Hindu girls was made at an event in Kodagu, a BJP stronghold. “That’s a voice which the BJP needs in the state, it appeals to a segment of the party voters,” says political commentator Sandeep Shastri. It points to a well-thought-out strategy to have multiple voices to cater to different segments, says Shastri. “Especially in the coastal parts of the state, the BJP feels it needs somebody like him.”
Slurs And Barbs
“Until we emerge out of this illusion of secularism and look at things from a nationalist perspective, our misfortune will continue...Nationalism and Hindutva, they are the same.”
“Shah Jahan has mentioned in his autobiography that it was a palace acquired from Raja Jaisimha...it was a Shiva temple built by Raja Paramardideva called Tejo Mahalaya. That became Taj Mahal. Mostly in the coming days, Ram will become Jahanpana and Sita will become Bibi.”
By Ajay Sukumaran in Bangalore