December 13, 2016

India: Datta Jayanti back in BJP’s agenda

The Hindu

Datta Jayanti back in BJP’s agenda
Sathish G.T.

Chikkamagaluru: December 12, 2016 22:54 IST

Yeddyurappa to participate in the programme after 11-year gap

In an indication that the Opposition BJP is back to its Hindutva agenda, party State president and chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa will participate in the final day of the three-day jayanti programme at Bababudangiri on Tuesday and also sport a Datta Mala.

The last time he took part in a protest related to the event was in 2005. His participation this year is being seen as a symbolic assertion that the BJP remains committed to the Datta Peetha row, which has been on the back burner for nearly a decade.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Sangh Parivar organisations began the Datta Jayanti celebrations in the late 1990s as part of their fight to claim ‘Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swamy Dargah’ as a “Hindu shrine”. The careers of many BJP leaders, those elected from Chikkamagaluru and Udupi district, grew as the issue started getting wide attention then.

Mr. Yeddyurappa had taken part in a protest opposing the State government’s decision to not allow a ‘Shobha Yatra’ in December 2005 during the JD(S)-Congress rule, and had been arrested. However, there was a shift in the BJP strategy ever since it became part of the coalition government in 2006, as it tried to broaden its base through consolidation of caste groups rather than focussing on Hindutva agenda.

As part of such a strategy, the State-level leaders of the BJP kept away from the Datta Peetha liberation movement, by leaving it to the Sangh Parivar outfits as well as the party’s regional leaders to carry on with the Datta Peetha movement.

But, Mr. Yeddyurappa’s proposed participation in the event ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls marks a departure from the strategy and indicates that the party is falling back on its Hindutva politics. While only a marginal increase is expected in the number of devotees attending this year, the presence of Mr. Yeddyurappa is being seen as politically significant.

C.T. Ravi, Chikkamagaluru MLA, said he was happy with Mr. Yeddyurappa’s decision to visit the place after 11 years. “I am glad he is visiting this time as the Datta Maladhari (one who wears the Datta thread),” he told The Hindu. Shobha Karandlaje, Chikkamagaluru-Udupi MP, led the ‘Sankeerthana Yatre’ on Sunday as part of the three-day event.

Many devotees, who participate in Datta Mala Abhiyana, are BJP supporters. Office-bearers of the BJP participate in the events organised by VHP or Bajrang Dal in mobilising people for the event. However, BJP leaders deny reports that they were showing “extra interest” in the event this year in preparation for the 2018 polls.

Mr. Ravi and BJP district president D.N. Jeevaraj insisted that it was “not a BJP event” but of all “faithful”. They argued that Mr. Yeddyurappa had not come here ahead of any of the earlier elections since 2005. “Moreover, the election is only in 2018,” Mr. Jeevaraj added.

However, K.L. Ashok, convenor of Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike, which is one of the organisations fighting the court battle for preserving the syncretic nature of the shrine, insisted that the latest developments cannot be delinked from election politics. “In the last couple of years, there were no tall leaders of the BJP attending the Datta Jayanti. This time, Mr. Yeddyurappa is attending. They are vitiating the atmosphere in preparation for the next elections. People of Malnad have been facing agriculture crises and the State is in the midst of a drought. These issues ought to be the focus now,” he said.