Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah kicked up a row Thursday after he claimed a difference between the Hindutva ideology and the Hindu faith. Addressing a Congress event in Bengaluru, he referred to “soft Hindutva” – seen as a political strategy to win moderate Hindu votes without losing those from minority communities – and asked, “‘Soft’ Hindutva? What is ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ Hindutva?”
“Hindutva is Hindutva. I am a Hindu. Hindutva is different and Hindu is different. Don’t we worship Ram? Are they (the BJP) the only ones? Haven’t we built Ram Mandirs? Don’t we sing Ram Bhajans?”
“People sing bhajans during the last week of December… I used to partake in that tradition in our village. This is practiced in other villages too. Are they (the BJP) the only ones? Aren’t we Hindus?”
The BJP’s CN Ashwath Narayan hit back swiftly, declaring Siddaramaiah and the Congress “never had any clarity of issues with regard to Bharat or Hindutva) and accusing them of “appeasement politics”.
READ | Congress Leader’s “Soft Hindutva” Remark Sparks Debate In Kerala
“Congress always practiced divisive politics… they don’t respect the law of land. Why get into these religious aspects? They have no moral rights to talk about Hindutva,” he insisted.
The comments echoed those the Karnataka Chief Minister made in February, when he was Leader of the Opposition. He said then, “Hindutva is against the Constitution. Hindutva and Hindu dharma is different. I’m not against the Hindu religion… I am a Hindu but I oppose Manuvad and Hindutva.”
READ | Congress’ Siddaramaiah Sparks Row With Hindutva vs Hindu Remark
“No religion supports murder… but Hindutva supports murder and discrimination.”
In January too he made that assertion – that he is a Hindu but opposed to Hindutva, and, while he had never opposed the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, he was opposed to using it for political gain.
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That Mr Siddaramaiah made these comments this week too is significant because the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is on January 22, less than four months before the general election.
Construction of the temple was one of the BJP’s biggest poll promises, fuelling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power in 2019. And it could all but ensure an unprecedented third term.
The Ram Temple, and the Ayodhya infrastructure push, will undoubtedly be a major campaign platform for the BJP in 2024 – something the Congress, and the opposition knows it must counter.
Mr Siddaramaiah’s comments are being seen in that light – an attempt to retain favour with Hindu votes, at least the moderate ones, ahead of the Lok Sabha election, and that too in a state that has historically rarely voted for the same party in successive Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
In that context, his comments are also being as course correction after his remarks on the hijab row in his state. Last week, a day after media reports claimed the hijab ban imposed by the previous BJP-led government had been removed, he said his administration had not issued any order.