Incidents of communal flare-up, divisive issues and inter-state disputes were the high points of variegated developments from Karnataka, that also saw the year ending on a terror tinge.
With just four months left for the Assembly polls, politics seems to have taken the centrestage of the public discourse, after the scene being dominated by issues like communal killings, hijab, halal, azan, textbook row, Love Jihad, during most part of the year.
Like it has been the trend during the last three to four years, torrential rains and resultant floods wreaked havoc in parts of the state.
Bengaluru too bore the brunt due to rains, with several parts of the IT city getting inundated, disrupting normal life and business.
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The regional or Kannadiga pride issue and backlash against the alleged Hindi imposition waded into public debate during the year, that also saw perennial border issue with neighbouring Maharashtra reaching new heights with tension in the border district of Belagavi and both states passing a resolution asserting their claims and condemning each other, even as the matter is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Also, the issue of inter-state water dispute with another neighbour Tamil Nadu, too made headlines in 2022, with Karnataka asserting its commitment towards the Mekedatu (dam) project across river Cauvery, to which the former is opposed to, expressing concerns that it will be against its interests.
While exerting pressure on the Centre to give necessary clearances for the Mekedatu project, Karnataka has urged it not to finalise the DPR under the ‘Peninsular River Development Plan’ without the state’s consent, and not to give approval for Tamil Nadu’s ”illegal” projects, which is likely to become a topic of further confrontation between the two states.
Resolutions and counter-resolutions were passed by legislatures of both states asserting their respective stand.
At the time of entering 2022, while there was a sense of relief with the worst of COVID-19 pandemic behind us, the hijab row was already in the making, which slowly snowballed into a national issue.
There were several instances in coastal Karnataka, where Muslim girl students turning up at colleges in hijab not being allowed into classes, and Hindu boys responding to head scarfs with saffron shawls also not being barred.
The issue that initially began in January at a government PU College in Udupi where six students who attended classes wearing headscarves in violation of the stipulated dress code were sent out, later spread to a few other colleges in nearby areas and then to different parts of the state.
With the government banning hijab in classrooms asserting that prescribed uniforms must be followed, the girls approached the court stating that wearing hijab is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution of India. The issue turned into both a legal and political one.
Questions were raised as to who was behind the girls, and also on the intent of the BJP government for its stand, with fingers pointed at its ideology.
The issue also had led to protests and tensions in many parts of the state with strong voices both in favour and against hijab. Meanwhile, the Karnataka HC ruled that hijab is not part of essential Islamic religious practice and upheld the state government’s ban on wearing headscarf in educational institutions, which was challenged before the Supreme Court. The SC in October delivered a split verdict on the matter and directed appeals against the Karnataka HC order, before CJI for constitution of larger bench.
The hijab controversy in a way opened up floodgates of sorts for several communally sensitive issues, as campaigns or calls to ban non-Hindu traders from Hindu religious fairs, to boycott halal meat and shutting down of loudspeakers at mosques followed, and kept the pot boiling and the atmosphere charged.
Amid these developments, the government also enacted anti-conversion legislation, which was opposed by opposition parties, certain sections of the society, especially Christian leaders. The new legislation provides for protection of the right to freedom of religion and prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.
The legislation, with penal provisions, also says any marriage which has happened for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another, either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage, shall be declared as null and void by the family court.
Then there was a textbook controversy, with demands by opposition Congress and some writers for sacking the textbook review committee chief Rohith Chakratirtha for allegedly ”saffronising” school textbooks by including speech of RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar as a chapter, and omitting chapters on key figures like freedom fighters, social reformers, and writings of noted literary figures.
There were also allegations of erroneous content on 12th century social reformer Basavanna and certain factual errors in the textbooks, including accusations of disrespecting ‘Raashtra Kavi’ (national poet) Kuvempu and distortion of the state anthem penned by him, which were refuted, and subsequently rectification was made in some cases.
A spate of communal incidents, anti and pro-Savarkar protests and alleged communally linked killings, especially in Shivamogga and Dakshina Kannada districts to a large extent disturbed peace and harmony in the region, during the year.
Tension gripped several parts of Shivamogga in February, as violence broke out following the murder of Harsha, a 26-year old Bajrang Dal worker, who was stabbed to death.
Later, a 32-year old zilla Bharatiya Yuva Morcha committee member Praveen Nettar was hacked to death by unidentified motorbike-borne assailants on July 26 night at Bellare in Sullia taluk in Dakshina Kannada district, which sparked outrage. Two persons with suspected links with the Popular Front of India (PFI) were arrested by Karnataka police in connection with the murder on July 28.
There were also killings on the minority community’s side. Masood (18) was murdered in Bellare before Nettar’s killing, while Mohammed Fazil (23) was hacked to death at Surathkal after it. This had created a suspicion about all these killings being murder for vengeance and were communally linked, and tension persisted.
These incidents had created resentment against the ruling BJP from within. The killings of Harsha and Nettar had triggered widespread protests and spate of resignations of some of its Yuva Morcha members at various places, accusing the state government of not standing up to protect the lives of Hindu ‘Karyakartas’.
As the year was about to end, a terror tinge got attached to it in the form of a cooker blast in an autorickshaw in Mangaluru in November.
The police called it an act of terror, and have blamed the passenger, identified as Mohammed Shariq (24) from Tirthahalli in Shivamogga district, for the blast. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is probing the case.
Among other highlights of the year include, allegations of rampant corruption rocking the government with state contractors’ association, writing to the Prime Minister complaining that they have to pay a 40 per cent commission to Ministers and legislators, and resignation of senior BJP leader K S Eshwarappa as Minister following the suicide of contractor Santosh Patil alleging demand for 40 per cent cut by his supporters.
The year also saw Bitcoin, PSI recruitment and voter ID scams.
The second half of the year majorly saw political parties and leaders jumping into election mode, with Karnataka going to the Assembly polls by April-May next year.
While the ruling BJP with an aim to break nearly four decade old jinx of no party in government retaining power in the state (since 1985), has set a target of winning minimum 150 of the total 224 seats in the assembly, and initiated poll preparations with ‘Jana Sankalpa Yatra’, a statewide tour programme by its leaders already underway.
The Congress too, with a target of minimum 150 seats, is aiming to return to power and has already begun the process for candidate selection, by inviting applications. Its leadership has already toured various parts of the state and has planned bus yatras. While the JD(S) aims to independently form a government by winning 123 seats, it has already announced its first list of 93 candidates.
While factionalism is haunting the Congress ahead of the polls with both legislature party leader Siddaramaiah and state President D K Shivakumar in a game of one-upmanship as to who will become CM in the event of coming to power. In the ruling BJP, there is resentment by several old guards over being sidelined and Cabinet expansion or reshuffle not being done for long despite vacancies, to make way for new faces.
Reservation issue and agitation by various communities, especially their pontiffs demanding quota increase, kept the government under pressure during the entire year.
Apparently budging under the pressure and keeping the elections in mind, CM Bommai fulfilled his government’s commitment by increasing reservation for SCs from 15 per cent to 17 per cent and for STs from 3 per cent to 7 per cent. However, he now has a task to ensure legal protection to this decision, which has taken the total reservation in Karnataka to 56 per cent, exceeding the 50 per cent cap, by bringing it under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.
Further, Panchamasali Lingayats are mounting pressure on him to put them under Category 2A from Category 3B of OBC reservation matrix. Then, there is pressure to implement internal quotas for SC/STs. Also, Vokkaligas are putting pressure on Bommai to hike their quota from 4 to 12 per cent.
Karnataka, which hosted Global Investors’ Meet (GIM) – ‘Invest Karnataka 2022’, this year, has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) envisaging potential investments worth nearly Rs 10 lakh crore.