Savarkar, Idgah Maidan in the mix as Hindutva outfits give Ganesha festival a communal twist

The festival with a private essence was turned into a public gathering by Tilak so that it can become a place of bonding.

BySaurav Kumar

Published Aug 24, 2022 | 8:31 PMUpdatedMar 16, 2023 | 4:20 PM

Ganesha festival

Ganesh Chaturthi is around the corner and it is the time for colourful community Ganesha pandals, festive fervour in neighbourhoods, and plates full of love-filled foods. This time around, however, the joy of festivities is being marred by threats of “hand-chopping” and intimidation of Muslims.

Over the last week, Karnataka has been witnessing multiple instances of political and religious groups attempting to convert the Ganesh Chaturthi festival into a communal bone of contention.

The Chamarajpet Nagarika Okkuta Vedike, a citizen’s group, has, for instance, sought permission to celebrate the Ganesh Chaturthi festival at the Idgah Maidan in Chamarajpet. Already in the midst of an “ownership” controversy, the Idgah Maidan was hitherto used by Muslims to offer community prayers on Eid.

Idgah Maidan, again

The pro-Hindu group on 23 August wrote to BJP legislator and the party’s National General Secretary CT Ravi requesting him to seek permission from the state government to hold Ganesha festivities at the ground for three days — 31 August to 2 September.

Rama Gowda, president, Chamarajapet Nagarika Okkuta Vedike, told South First, “It is the first time in 25 years that we want to celebrate Ganesha festival on the playground (Idgah Maidan). And we are determined to organise it.”

“As it has been declared as Revenue Department land, we expect the government to permit us to celebrate the festival there,” he added, referring to a recent BBMP ruling in this regard. Muslim bodies have challenged the ruling.

This Independence Day, 15 August, it was for the first time in 75 years that Idgah Maidan hosted a flag-hoisting ceremony. The successful event has opened up the possibility of holding other public events, such as the Ganesha festival, in an already communally sensitive space.

For many decades, it was being used by the Muslim community to offer prayers on Eid and Bakrid. But after the BBMP declared the state Revenue Department as its owner, Hindutva outfits have been on the offensive, even threatening to demolish the Idgah tower.

Savarkar in focus

The latest addition to this already volatile communal cauldron is right-wing icon VD Savarkar and Hindutva outfits’ call for placing his posters at “all Ganesha pandals”.

Karnataka’s ruling BJP and its leaders have been evoking Savarkar since the 76th Independence Day celebrations. His banners have been put up in public spaces at many places across the state, .

When former chief minister Siddaramaiah voiced objections over Savarkar’s banner in Udupi on the occasion of the Independence Day celebrations, there was an uproar, with BJP workers and other Hindutva outfits vehemently protesting against Siddaramaiah during his visit to Kodagu and Chikkamagaluru. 

‘Savarkar rath yatra’ flagged off

On 23 August, Karnataka’s former chief minister and veteran leader BS Yediyurappa flagged off a “Savarkar Rath Yatra” in Mysuru.

B.S Yediyurappa

On 23 August, Karnataka’s former Chief Minister and veteran leader B.S Yediyurappa flagged off a Savarkar rath yatra in Mysuru. (Supplied)

The BJP leader inaugurated the yatra to counter the alleged “negative propaganda” against the Hindutva ideologue in the state and to spread his message.

The planned eight-day-long yatra will cover parts of Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, and Mandya districts.

On the same day, Pramod Muthalik, while talking to media persons, threatened to “chop off the hands” of Muslims and Congress workers if they tried to remove photos and banners of Savarkar.

“As a permanent initiative, we have decided to ensure that in every Ganesha pandal, Savarkar’s contributions and proud works will be highlighted. He was not a person who was against Muslims; he was against the British,” Muthalik said.

In Belagavi in north Karnataka, Belagavi South BJP MLA Abhay Patil and Belagavi North BJP MLA Anil Benake announced that Savarkar’s posters would be put up at all public pandals all through the Ganesha festivities.

“To confront the disrespectful comments of the Congress party and Muslim organisations, we decide to highlight the contributions of Savarkar across Karnataka,” said Muthalik.

He claimed that during the Ganesha Chaturthi festivities, more than 10,000 pandals would have pictures and banners of Savarkar, along with a 25-page booklet busting myths about him.

The Hubbali Idgah Maidan

Apart from the Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru’s Chamarajpet, Hubballi’s Idgah Maidan has also become the target of Hindutva outfits on the pretext of the Ganesha festival.

The Rani Chennamma Eidga Maidan Gajanana Utsav Samiti in Hubballi has submitted a request to the city commissioner to allow the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi at the Idgah Maidan.

Hubballi has a sensitive past with respect to communal harmony. In 1994, BJP workers attempted to hoist the national flag at the Idgah maidan, leading to riots on August 15. The police had to open fire to disperse the crowd, resulting in five deaths.

Before this incident, in 1992, in the backdrop of BJP leader LK Advani’s Ramjanmabhoomi rath yatra to Ayodhya, party workers tried to hoist a flag at Idgah Maidan and had to be stopped by the police.

Hubballi’s Idgah Maidan has since remained a bone of contention between the Sangh Parivar and the Anjuman-e-Islam.

Voices against communalism

KL Ashok, a member of the Communal Harmony Forum (Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike) has been actively confronting right-wing politics in Karnataka.

He told South First, “Consecutive and sudden introduction of Savarkar in Ganesha festival is a new tactic of the BJP and Hindutva outfits to communalise the festive season.”

According to Ashok, the ruling party, along with its right-wing ecosystem, has deployed Savarkar to further deepen the divide in society. Using Savarkar, they aim to poison the festival of Ganesha Chaturthi.

K Vimala, a member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association who is also associated with Souharda Vedike, said the Ganesha festival was being used as a launch pad to communalise the polity ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections.

“Polarising society on the lines of religion is the patent technique of the BJP. But using the Ganesha festival to incite hate among different faiths is unfortunate,” Vimala told South First.

Legacy of Ganesha festival

The 10-day Hindu festival is celebrated to honour Ganesha: the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati.

Ganesha is usually invoked by Hindus at the beginning of every religious undertaking to pray for a smooth going because he is both the placer and remover of obstacles — the Vighnakarta and the Vighnaharta, or even more succinctly, the Vighnaraja or Vighnesh.

Ganesh Chaturthi was celebrated well throughout ancient and medieval India, with the Peshwas — the generals of the Maratha empire — worshipping him as a family deity.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the first person to redefine the celebrations of the Ganesha festival. (Creative Commons)

However, freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, in an effort to galvanise the patriotic movement, focused on another aspect of this god.

He chose Ganapati — the purveyor of the masses — for this purpose, because that’s how people of all sections of society worshipped him.

In 1893, Tilak organised a Ganesha festival as a social and religious function. He put up large hoardings with images of Lord Ganesh in public places, and undertook immersion of Ganesha idols on the 10th day with scores of people.

The festival was turned into a public event so it could become a place of bonding between people from different castes, faiths, and communities.

It also served as a place where patriotism could be fostered and a banner under which freedom fighters could congregate safely.

But the tradition of inter-mingling of different sections of society is under threat as communal politics takes over festivities.