Karnataka’s chief minister, B S Yediyurappa, followed the general tide in the southern states, denounced denominational profiling following the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) episode, and received congratulations from the opposition. In doing so, he risked crossing swords with his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and his ideological source, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The large TJ congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi, which was attended by sect members from all over India and the world, became a major controversy after several participants were found to be infected with coronavirus and to become vectors among larger communities. While the TJ was rightly criticized for being irresponsible in hosting a rally in the midst of the pandemic, the episode led to a virulent attack on Muslims in traditional and virtual media, as well as by politicians.
Shobha Karandlaje, political confidant of Yediyurappa and MP for Udupi-Chikmagalur, conducted the anti-Muslim choir. She was joined by MP Renukacharya, who is also political secretary of Yediyurappa, and by Basanagouda Patil Yatnal. Together, they built a story that portrays the pandemic as a “jihad corona” and warns Muslims of “gunshot death” if they avoid quarantine or misbehave with doctors and paramedics in hospitals. It was a decisive moment for the CM which had to support or repel the minority baits of the BJP.
“There was a trend that all the countries of the South followed during the fallout from the TJ. Each of them – K Chandrasekhar Rao, Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, E K Palaniswami and Pinarayi Vijayan – stressed that the incident should not be reported. They were joined by Uddhav Thackeray from Shiv Sena (Maharashtra CM). Under these circumstances, Yediyurappa has demonstrated that he is a leader, ”said a Bengaluru-based political observer. The CM convened a meeting of all parties and met separately with Muslim leaders and deputies. In his interaction with the latter, he urged Muslims to pray at home and not in mosques for a period of time and to share the details of the TJ members who attended the Delhi event. “They are cooperating,” said Yediyurappa.
A BJP source said, “If you don’t demonize a religion or stigmatize a community and don’t cause fear, people of all faiths will come forward and share their stories. This is why Yediyurappa decided to go against the party. This helped other leaders to support him later. “
The president of the BJP, J P Nadda, also ordered the party leaders to refrain from giving a “common color” to the pandemic.
A day after meeting with Muslims, Yediyurappa told a Kannada news channel, “No one should say a word against Muslims. If someone blames an entire community for an isolated incident, I will take action against them without a second thought. “
“He was annoyed by Shobha and Renukacharya for going ballistic,” said a BJP source. However, Shobha and Renukacharya were unrepentant. Shobha said, “I told the truth … We (the government) are not going enough after the culprits.” Renukacharya said, “I don’t blame an entire community. Those who do not come for a test are anti-national. “
An assistant to Yediyurappa maintained that Shobha’s position was “provoked” by “alienation” which she felt more and more in the dispensation of Karnataka after having “called the shots” in previous BJP regimes. “It is because Yediyurappa’s younger son (B Y Vijayendra) has gained a strong grip on his father,” said the assistant.
Yediyurappa’s stance on the TJ controversy caused a backlash within the BJP – a section, which allegedly included “active” members of its IT cells, was upset and pushed the #WeLostHopeBSY trend on Twitter. Although the hashtag inspired a counter in #IStandWithBSY, BJP sources admitted that there was “no way” that Yediyurappa could ignore the dissent against its leadership. “He was under pressure to soften the line but he didn’t give in. He thinks everything will explode, ”continued the assistant.
Since settling down as CM by designing a majority with the help of Congress and Janata Dal’s defectors (seculars), Yediyurappa has been beset with problems. Although he resisted them, he awaits the big test to pacify the BJP loyalists who have been excluded from his cabinet. In the latest expansion, he inducted 10 of the 12 MPs who were re-elected in the by-elections and all of them were ground coverings.