by Dr Purushothama Bilimale/AK Shiburaj
A few civil society representatives came forward during the last assembly elections of Karnataka ( 2023 May) to oust the BJP from power at a time when the Sangh Parivar was making violent interventions in Karnataka’s culture, politics, and governance. It was later evaluated that the popular interventions carried out by the group Eddelu (Wake up) Karnataka were very effective for that. As the Sangh Parivar aims to transform India into a Hindutva state, it is the responsibility of every democrat to build great walls of resistance. The fact remains that the experiences of Eddelu Karnataka ( wake up Karnataka ) are vibrant enough to inspire and motivate such initiatives across our nation.
Having studied and written extensively on Kannada literature and culture and the Lohiya influence on Karnataka literature, Dr. Purushothama Bilimale was a prominent member of Eddelu Karnataka’s intellectual leadership. He was also the director of the Kannada Chair at JNU. He came to Kozhikode to share his experiences of Eddelu Karnataka at a writeshop for activists organised by Patabhedam magazine as part of second Subaltern Festival. He talks about the political work done by Eddelu Karnataka and the state of contemporary Indian politics.
Could you tell us about the political situation that led to the start of the people’s movement called Eddelu Karnataka?
In fact, after the 2018 election, the BJP did not have the required majority to form a government in Karnataka. They solved it with an illegal and unconstitutional plan called ‘Operation Kamala’. It can be seen that in contemporary India, the government is not formed based on the majority obtained by voting by the people. When the BJP came to power, their true colors came out in Karnataka too. Their hallmark was Hindutva stances, which included communalism, corruption, divisive statements, anti-minority stances, and anti-Muslim-Christian stances. It is Brahminism in a broad sense.
Representatives of civil society like me were very disturbed to see this miserable situation. In this state of affairs, a few of us, including eminent writer Devanuru Mahadeva, Prof. AR Vasavi, Dr. Rahamat Tarikere, Du. Sarasvathi and Dr Vijayamma met at the end of November 2022 and asked the following questions for ourselves- How Karnataka culture was deeply hurt by the BJP? How hate speeches and communal actions made people forget their miseries.
We believe Civil Society must react strongly when some people make hate speeches, engage in activities that undermine democracy, and try to subvert the Constitution.
Could you tell us about the preparations made as part of the interventions after the meeting?
The first thing that was done was to examine the manifesto of the BJP during the last election in 2018 and we analyzed whether they kept their promises. Then we produced a thirty-page document titled ‘Wake up Karanataka : Citizens movement’ was prepared to focus on around twenty-one major issues such as rural distress, price hike of essential commodities, unemployment rate, increased insecurity of minorities, privatization of resources, and destruction of social justice.
In 2023, we could find a 64% increase in the wealth of the elected representatives from what was declared in 2018. A fundamental question is how they could accumulate this growth when the common man’s income goes down. On March 15th, we started to effectively convey such information to the people. An executive committee was formed and the document was brought to the people.
It is not easy for leaders of civil society movements to come together to plan alternative strategies and tactics to preserve the secular and democratic basis of our Constitution and the pluralistic culture of our society and protect citizens from the depredations of the Sangh Parivar. What other things did the Eddelu Karnataka do to expose the politics of communal divide?
We formed six different committees such as a social media committee, a financial committee, a critical constituency committee, a political negotiation committee, a content writing committee, etc. We had a strong group of 5500 volunteers divided into 102 small groups for undertaking activities such as organizing workshops, distributing of booklets, sharing social media posts, and meeting the voters.
Were there any party members among them?
Yes, but we have included them as volunteers and not as party workers. We asked them to work to prevent the BJP to come for power. We did not suggest which other political party to vote for.
Political parties have existing mechanisms to conduct election campaigns. Was it a big challenge for Eddelu Karnataka to build such a system and campaign effectively?
Of course, Eddelu Karnataka worked among the people of Karnataka by overcoming many challenges, both expected and not. The 224 assembly constituencies were divided into 10 regional areas for the effective functioning of the group and the responsibility for it was assigned to each prominent person. I used to handle social media along with ten volunteers. We were able to deliver social media posters directly to one and a half lakh people and from them to many others. But compared to the work of the BJP’s IT cell, it was a very small number. Apart from that we also disseminated audio materials and short videos of two minutes duration. It presented political issues simply and attractively.
Every election campaign needs a specific strategy that is influenced by the political climate it’s set in. And for a local election, winning supporters is largely about winning over the community of voters. Could you also develop such campaign strategies like regular political parties used to form?
Some assembly constituencies were certain that the BJP would win no matter what we did. Similarly, there were constituencies where the opposition parties were certain to win. We have excluded such constituencies and selected some critical constituencies that were won by the BJP in the last election by a small majority. We took a look at how they achieved that success. In 2018, it was seen that the voting percentage was less in the constituencies won by the BJP.
In our analysis, we understood that the Muslim community voted less. There were many reasons for that. It was because some women were reluctant to show their finger to be inked while voting, sometimes because they didn’t like to show their face by changing the burqa. To overcome this problem we met and talked with Muslim Mullahs. We requested them to ensure community participation in the elections. Otherwise, we warned that it would lead to major disasters. Also met and talked to a big community leader. Our volunteers also have worked hard in such constituencies.
We had a committee called the Political Negotiation Committee. BJP and Congress had a practice of fielding candidates just to split votes. There were 29 such candidates this time. We met them in person and managed to dissuade 22 people from contesting the elections which was a big setback for the BJP.
What were the main challenges faced by Eddelu Karnataka?
Eddelu Karnataka has mobilized around 112 organizations and the ideologies of many of these progressive movements are very different. There are various factions within the groups that divide the anti-BJP forces into many. Although they are all against the BJP, it is very difficult to bring them together under one roof. But the Sangh Parivar does not have to face this problem in a big way. Their people follow instructions without thinking, therefore, there are a few different opinions among them. Another problem is that many civil society members are egotistical. Many of them think they know everything, but the reality is not like that. It seems that many people are not clear about basic issues like globalization, the caste system, and Hindutva politics. Along with that, the middle class is always scrambling to acquire more comforts so it is not easy to bring them to social work.
A parallel media called Eedina (Today) was also working as a part of Eddelu Karnataka. What was the inspiration for such an intervention?
On the occasion of the farmers’ strike in Delhi, the agitators had kept the mainstream media away from the scene of the strike and started an alternate media. The Twitter account Tractor to Twitter (@Tractor2twitr) was one such intervention. Engineering students from different parts of Punjab and Haryana contributed immensely to it. They published a tabloid-sized newspaper, Trolley Times, to bring real information to about five lakh people. Realizing its potential, we also decided to start a parallel media(eedina.com). So a few of our friends started a YouTube channel called Eedina (https://www.youtube.com/@eedinanews/videos). We requested the youth to watch and spread it and it was a huge success. Now it is the most popular alternate media in Karnataka.
Why is it that the Congress party, which has been in power for a long time and has a wealth of experience, is not able to carry out a very constructive political activity in the way that Karnataka has envisioned and implemented?
After the election, the congress party invited me to attend a meeting at their office. In that meeting, I was asked about the work done in Karnataka and what kind of governance is expected from the Congress party. I put before them some issues for their consideration during the meeting hoping they would listen to the voices of civil society.
Congress is a feudal party. It can be said that they do not have strong activists at the local level. They believe that people will vote for Congress when they get tired of the BJP. Even now they have not been able to address the important issues of Karnataka politics. Congress cannot be said to be a reliable party for our country in the future but it is a better party than the BJP. Many people in Congress believe in the ideas of RSS and many of them have anti-Muslim views. That is why they make so many absurd statements. The reality is that they do not learn lessons from history. They have not been able to take up the challenges of the 21st century. They don’t even have a good IT network.
The mission accomplished by the civil society movement led by Anna Hazare in India was also to pave the way for the Sangh Parivar to grab power in India. Don’t the civil society movements that are formed to address some of the crises that may exist in society also lead to the creation of dangerous political and social situations over time?
Of course, it is a great limitation and danger of civil society movements and that is why we have targeted only a short-term operation in Karnataka. I think it is not possible to bring fundamental changes by civil society movements. It requires a long-term work of political movement rooted in ideology. But civil society usually only works for a short period. Though Eddel Karnataka started academic work in October 2022, it worked among the people only one and a half months before the elections.
How do you view the coalition of opposition parties called INDIA? Does it give rise to an optimistic outlook about Indian politics? Does it seem to be a significant change in the rhetoric and behaviour of the political class which is different from the usual scramble for seats and alliances?
It’s not the right time to have a conclusive remark about the platform. Yet the fact remains that it is not easy to bring leaders like Chandrashekar Rao, Mamata Banerjee, Stalin, Arvind Kejriwal, and Sharad Pawar together. Already two groups have been formed between them. Also, Rahul Gandhi is the only leader who has announced that he will not be the prime ministerial candidate. We have to wait and see if they can go ahead at least till the election without fighting each other. On the other hand, it can be seen that such crises are comparatively less in BJP. Also, RSS is working more vigorously when BJP is facing electoral defeat but other parties tend to be inactive in such situations. That is why RSS is very active in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. I don’t think the political parties are deeply concerned about the degradation India is facing because power is more important to them than social progress.
A political party is usually ready to accept defeat in an election and be in opposition. But today India is ruled by those who do not accept such a democratic practice. Do you think they will go to any extent to retain power in case of defeat in the 2024 elections?
There is such a possibility. We know what happened in Pulwama during the 2019 election. We don’t know what is going to happen in the forthcoming election. We have to be very alert. It could be a communal riot, a war, or an attack on the Ram temple as these are the methods of capturing and maintaining power of the Sangh Parivar. This time they may come up with plans of destruction that we cannot even imagine.
Narendra Modi doesn’t look as cheerful as he used to be. It must be assumed that he realizes that the image he has built up is beginning to crumble. Modi is facing criticism from within the RSS too. But we must remember that Modi is also a sadist who takes pleasure in violence. Modi will not hesitate to destroy his party if others do not give him power. My gut feeling is that something very disastrous is going to happen in the wake of the 2024 elections.
AK Shiburaj is a freelance journalist