Karnataka ex-home minister Araga Jnanendra sparks controversy with comment on Mallikarjun Kharge

Congress said the statement was an attack on the dignity of an individual and an insult to Dalits; a police complaint was lodged.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Aug 03, 2023 | 7:45 AMUpdatedAug 03, 2023 | 7:45 AM

Karnataka Arga Jnanendra Congress Mallikarjun Kharge

BJP MLA and former Karnataka home minister Araga Jnanendra landed in a controversy on Wednesday, 2 August, over his “racist” comments against Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge a day earlier.

Terming the BJP leader’s comment an “insult to the entire Dalit community”, the Congress’ Karnataka unit has filed a police complaint at Bengaluru’s High Grounds Police Station.

During a protest against Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre’s comments on the Kasturirangan report on Tuesday, Jnanendra, who represents the Thirthahalli segment in the Assembly, made some remarks against Kharge — who is also from Karnataka — that were deemed discriminatory in nature.

Jnanendra’s comments seemed to suggest that the people of Bidar in general — and Mallikarjun Kharge in particular — were adversely affected by the sun, something that was reflected in the complexion of their skin.

Unsurprisingly, the comments were met with immediate criticism.

The ruling Congress condemned the statements as derogatory and offensive, labelling them as an “attack on the dignity of an individual and an insult to the Dalit community”.

The party also demanded that the BJP leadership initiate appropriate action against Jnanendra.

Even many netizens reacted sharply against Jnanendra for hurling such racist comments at Kharge.

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The incident

Araga Jnanendra landed in the controversy while addressing party workers during a protest against Minister for Forest, Ecology and Environment Eshwar Khandre’s remarks on the Kasturirangan report at Thirthahalli in Shivamogga on Tuesday.

In a viral video, Jnanendra is heard saying: “People who come from regions devoid of forests are now serving as forest ministers. This is a tragedy in our state. They have no idea about trees or shadows.”

He added: “Minister Eshwara Khandre, who hails from Bidar, does not understand the problems of the people in the Western Ghats. The people from that region (Kalyana Karnataka) are burnt and blackened, and you can understand their condition when you look at Mallikarjun Kharge. Kharge’s head is covered with hair, so he is protected, leaving the rest to burn.”

Jnanendra continued: “The Sahyadri forest range owes its survival to its indigenous inhabitants. The survey, conducted from Delhi and relying solely on satellite images, lacks scientific basis.”

“People are already grappling with the implications of numerous existing laws. If the Kasturirangan report is implemented, the situation will only worsen.”

The Kasturirangan Committee was established in 2012 with the purpose of developing a comprehensive approach to safeguarding the biodiversity of the Western Ghats.

The committee aimed to balance the preservation of the region’s diverse ecosystems with the legitimate needs for inclusive economic progress and sustainable development of the local communities.

The panel, in its report, called for 37 percent of the total area of the Western Ghats to be declared as eco-sensitive area (ESA).

That number was supposed to be 64 percent, according to the Gadgil Committee report.

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Congress demands punishment

As soon as the video of Jnanendra insulting Kharge went viral, Congress leaders criticised the former Karnataka home minister and demanded appropriate action from the BJP, now in the Opposition in the state.

The Congress’ Karnataka unit demanded not only an apology but also the expulsion of Jnanendra from the BJP for insulting Kharge.

The party also filed a complaint against Jnanendra at the High Grounds Police Station in Bengaluru.

The ruling party’s workers also held protests to condemn Jnanendra’s remarks.

Social media platforms were flooded with posts condemning the BJP MLA’s comments, and demanding accountability and an apology.

Responding to the comments, Khandre told reporters in Delhi on Wednesday: “BJP members who are involved in casteism and communalism have not only insulted the people of Kalyana Karnataka (formerly known as Hyderabad-Karnataka) but also disrespected the people of the state. Everyone holds a deep respect for Mallikarjun Kharge.”

He added: “Araga Jnanendra has lost his mental balance. Legal proceedings should take place against him.”

He continued: “The former minister should be expelled from the party and then action must be initiated against him.”

Karnataka’s Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Priyank Kharge, son of Mallikarjun Kharge, tweeted: “The expressions you have articulated reflect not only your individual sentiments but also echo the influence of Keshav Krupa, highlighting a sense of frustration within the BJP towards marginalised communities.”

He added: “It is not the people of Kalyana Karnataka who have suffered, but rather it’s your reasoning that has been negatively impacted. The people who endured exploitation for generations under the pretext of the caste system, and whose labour fuelled the progress of society, may have varying skin tones.”

He continued: “Those who work with dignity may bear the brunt of the sun’s rays. If Araga Jnanendra engages in laborious tasks even for a day, his skin tone might darken. These statements underscore that the BJP, which seems to uphold Manusmriti‘s Varnashrama ideology, exhibits a lack of patience towards the political advancement of Dalits.”

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Statements twisted, says Jnanendra

Responding to the criticism, Araga Jnanendra said: “The Congress members are experts at twisting statements to serve their political agendas. I mentioned the scorching heat in North Karnataka and gave the example of Kharge to illustrate it. As many of those serving as forest ministers are from that region, they are unaware of the issues faced by the people of Malnad or the challenges related to the trees and plants.”

He added in his series of tweets, “I made the statement in that context, I have not displayed any kind of disrespect towards Mallikarjun Kharge.”

He continued: “The Congress should refrain from making such politically motivated statements. We do not need to learn from the Congress how to honour Dalits. History stands witness to how Dr BR Ambedkar was treated within the Congress. The common people of the state are not naïve.”

“While criticising Forest Minister Eshwar Khadre, I express regret for inadvertently mispronouncing the name of another individual. I hold immense respect for the commendable accomplishments of Kharge, who has made noteworthy contributions to national politics. I earnestly request not to hold any misconceptions about me,” Jnanendra said in his series of tweets on the incident.