A Bloodthirsty Pilgrimage
With assembly polls due in Karnataka next year, the BJP has decided to stoke old communal embers. It has announced it will support the VHP and Bajrang Dal’s call to "liberate" the Guru Dattatreya-Baba Budangiri shrine in the picturesque Chikmagalur district during the annual Datta Jayanti celebrations on December 7-8. A number of party leaders, including state unit chief and Union cabinet discard Ananth Kumar, will converge at Chikmagalur along with VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia to "liberate the Ayodhya of Karnataka" during the two-day ‘fete’. Since the mid-’90s, the Bajrang Dal has made this shrine the object of acrimonious battle, claiming that it belonged to the Hindus and the rituals ought to be performed on Hindu lines. For centuries, the shrine has been the symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in Karnataka.
This year, however, the shrine could go beyond symbolic strife. A group of litterateurs, led by playwright-actor and Jnanpeeth winner Girish Karnad, has vowed to organise a peace march in Chikmagalur to counter the Sangh parivar’s programmes. "We can see the bloodshed being organised, but we will go there and do everything to protect this national shrine," Karnad said after meeting CM S.M. Krishna.
He added: "We don’t blame the Bajrang Dal or Sangh parivar; we clearly know their intentions. They want to destroy tombs and conduct yagnas and convert Karnataka into one more Gujarat or the South’s Gujarat. But the district administration and the local units of the political parties have been violating a Supreme Court order (status quo as it existed before June 1975) and the Places of Religious Worship Act." Bajrang Dal convenor Praveen Muthalik’s reaction is vitriolic: "Karnad has made it known that he’s eating out of the hands of Congressmen."
Last year, the state government woke up a fortnight after the celebrations and instructed the district administration to register cases against Togadia and Muthalik for fomenting communal enmity. This year, the parivar has made elaborate plans for "rath yatras" from various districts of Karnataka to converge at the Baba Budangiri range during the celebrations.
By B.R. Srikanth