Sri Rama Sene in Chikkamagaluru commenced Dattamala Abhiyana on Monday. The abhiyana was initiated by the Sangh Parivar along with the Dattatreya Jayanti celebrations in the region in December 1984, in their attempt of “re-claiming” the Hindu shrine of Guru Dattatreya in Baba Budan Giri.
The Dattamala Abhiyana is a ritual of wearing holy beads around the neck and offering prayers for a week and seek alms from three houses before leaving for Datta Peetha, which, according to the Sangh Parivar, is in Baba Budan Giri. The Sene, a Hindu extremist group in Karnataka, is said to be organising the Dattamala Abhiyana in Baba Budan Giri on October 28, and a report in the Deccan Herald read, “The district administration has prohibited the entry of tourists to Inam Dattatreya Peeta and surrounding tourist spots on October 28...As a large number of devotees will take part in the Dattamala Abhiyana.”
This decision by the district administration, some might argue, is a move in the light of the place being communally sensitive. The decision, most importantly, presents the incapability of the authorities to curb the hooliganism of the “devotees” escorted by the Sangh Parivar, hoarded in vehicles every year to the region. Some of these “devotees” every year reportedly instigate communal violence in the region by shouting slogans that hurl abuses at the Muslims. All this in the name of reclaiming the region’s Hindu identity. The region, which infamously has been termed by several BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders as the Ayodhya of South, has been used as a tool by the BJP to communally polarise its vote bank in Karnataka..
Baba Budan Giri is a hill in middle of the Sahyadri Western Ghats in Chikkamagalur district of Karnataka. A small shrine in a cave on this hill, once proudly flaunted the syncretic culture of the region. The shrine was revered by both Hindus and Muslims in the region and was frequented by devotees from both religions. The former considered the cave as the final resting place of Sri Guru Dattatreya, who, according to the avadhuta tradition prominent in the Southern state, is an incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; and the latter paid their obeisance to the Sufi saint of 11th century A D, Dada Hayat, locally known as Baba Budan.
This communal harmony saw its end in 1975 when it was converted into a lab for the experiments of communal politics by the Sangh Parivar. In 1975, the then government had passed an order making it a Wakf property. This order was challenged by the then caretaker of the Dargah, Shah Khadri, and two Hindu litigants in the Supreme Court. In 1988, the Commissioner for Religious and Charitable Endowments in Karnataka ordered that status quo be maintained. In 2008, the Supreme Court had maintained the same position; The judgement pronounced that the shrine is revered equally by Hindus and Muslims, and ordered the status quo to be maintained.
Recently, in March 2018, following the orders of the Supreme Court, according to Bangalore Mirror, the state cabinet has resolved that the shrine is the property of Religious Endowment Department and does not belong to the Wakf Board. The Sangh Parivar plunged into this ‘opportunity’ to fan communal sentiments in the region with the aim of marking the presence of their political arm, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), in the state.
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Court orders do not make any difference to the Sangh Parivar, especially when the question is of religion/faith. Just as in the case of Ram Janmabhoomi, and most recently in Sabarimala case, they jumped onto the ground by making sure that communal harmony in the region is destroyed, and to help BJP convert these religious sentiments into votes.
According to a fact-finding report by the People's Union for Civil Liberties - Karnataka (PUCL), “1984 onwards, the Datta Jayanthi celebrations were made a formal affair. The various Hindu swamijis who had never bothered to visit the place earlier made a beeline to the shrine.” The report also said, “In the post-Ayodhya development, the Sangh Parivar took up the programmes to make it a controversial spot. After the fizzling out of the Idgah Maidan issue in Hubli, they targeted Bababudangiri/Datta Peetha Dargah to rouse communal passions. This is connected with the BJP's game plan of securing a foothold in Karnataka and to extend its supremacy.” The Sangh was successful in both permanently damaging the syncretic culture of the region and establishing themselves in the region: Chikmagalur, which was traditionally a Congress constituency since 2004, is now the BJP’s constituency.
Speaking to Indian Cultural Forum, Professor Muzaffar Assadi from Mysore University notes that unlike the Northern states, the Southern states, especially Karnataka, were untouched by the communal polarisation that the Partition caused in the country. The prevalent Sufi tradition in Karnataka had created a community whose identities were blurred. Baba Budan Giri stood as an example of these blurred abstract identities, where both Hindus and Muslims worshipped together. As Rajendra Chenni, a writer and activist observes, “The rulers of Karnataka recognised the sanctity of the syncretic culture symbolised by the shrine, and they faithfully recorded its name as ‘Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Swamy Darga’ in the revenue records. The King of Mysore patronised it and the Queen of the Nayaka dynasty supported it through grants.”
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Thus, the shrine historically never belonged to any particular religious group, and as Chenni observes, “the right-wing cannot accept the fact that no one has ever disputed that the shrine is also a Hindu shrine.” They want to create a false narrative of a religious and cultural invasion by the Muslims, as this would serve their purpose of communal politics.
In December 2017, on the occasion of Datta Jayanti, C.T Ravi, BJP MLA from the region, displayed some documents to the audience in the premises of the shrine and claimed that the records proved that the shrine was a Hindu place of worship. This, in turn, had provoked the “devotees” present there who tried to damage dome-like structures around the shrine.
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As the 2019 general elections near, the BJP is seen involved in cultural polarisation across the country. Having lost in Karnataka and desperate to come back to power, the party would not let go of any chance to communalise and divide people for political gains. As this is just the time of the year when Baba Budan Giri becomes the most important religious site for the Sangh Parivar and BJP to provoke communal sentiments, one has to be extremely vigilant about their actions this year.