BJP leaders insist that the hijab issue was not a part of their Hindutva project in the state and was not started by them, but they are looking at capitalising on it.

A representative picture of three young women in burqa crossing a road
news Politics Wednesday, February 16, 2022 - 20:31

For weeks now, the hijab row has made headlines in Karnataka. While the row has moved to the court, the deadlock continues in schools with as many as 40 young women choosing to return home instead of removing their hijabs on Monday. Colleges are scheduled to reopen on February 16 and when they do, the Karnataka High Court order of not wearing either hijab or saffron shawls in classrooms will apply. For the ruling BJP, irrespective of which way the courts eventually decide, this is a controversy that will only reap political benefits.

BJP leaders insist that the hijab issue was not a part of their Hindutva project in the state and was not started by them. Referring to Campus Front of India (CFI), the student wing of the Popular Front of India, with whom the deadlock started in the Government Women College, the BJP leaders say that this started as a bid by CFI to get political leverage in coastal Karnataka. But once it became a state-wide issue, it was an opportunity for the BJP. “The issue was not started by us. The CFI and the SDPI wanted to gain political mileage in coastal Karnataka using this issue. But that said, we were given this opportunity on a platter,” a senior BJP leader said. 

For the first month, leaders from the Malenadu region, comprising the coastal districts along with Chikkamagaluru and Hassan, were involved. “It became a larger issue after students from other colleges started insisting on wearing the hijab and with that Hindu students were also polarised enough not to back down from their saffron shawl protest,” the leader added. 

Several Hindu organisations have been closely involved inside and outside campuses, in mobilising students. From Hindu Jagarana Vedike to Bajrang Dal, over eight organisations across the state have been coordinating protests by Hindu students. And several BJP leaders like K Raghupathy Bhat, Nalin Kateel, Araga Jnanendra, B C Nagesh and C T Ravi too have jumped in. For the BJP, insiders say, irrespective of which way the Courts rule, the controversy will be a political advantage.

With thousands of youngsters in colleges across the state taking a strong pro-Hindu stance, BJP hopes that they will turn into a votebase for the party in the upcoming elections. “The students have been exposed to the ideological stance of BJP and the Sangh now and have responded positively and overwhelmingly. We hope that many of them will turn up in large numbers to vote for us in both the Assembly and Parliament elections,” says a BJP leader. 

With the intense polarisation and anti-minority narrative whipped up over the last few days, many political fence-sitters too have started leaning towards BJP’s ideology and the party hopes to leverage this politically and electorally in the coming days. 

Another leader with the Sangh says that this issue has thrown up many surprising student leaders who will bolster their cause in the state and also elsewhere. “We have been watching some students closely and have been pleasantly surprised at how articulate they are and how committed to the cause (Hindutva) they have been. Many of them are not even members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. This is definitely an opportunity for us to groom them politically too,” he said. 

The hijab case is currently being heard at the Karnataka High Court and is expected to resume on Wednesday. The Court, on Friday, had given its interim order asking students not to wear any religious clothes inside classrooms, banning the hijab and saffron shawls. But the BJP leader who spoke to TNM said that irrespective of what the final outcome of the case will be, it will be advantageous for the BJP. “If the court allows hijab, it will help us as most Hindu students have already taken a strong stand that will help us. Even if hijab is allowed, it will evoke strong sentiments in the majority voters of the state. And if hijab is banned, then it is a remarkable victory,” the leader adds. 

Senior journalist Naheed Ataualla says that this has alienated the minorities further from the BJP.  "An issue which could have been resolved across the table was taken to the court. The matter was nipped in the bud by Congress MLA T D Raje Gowda representing Sringeri, who allowed hijab and managed to convince those wanting to sport saffron shawls to drop it before the interim order came. Whatever goodwill the BJP was trying to build with the minorities, seems to have been lost by politicising the hijab issue,” she says. 

“There is a divide now among students. Muslims and Hindu students who were sitting next to each other have turned hostile. And even if this was not the making of the BJP, they will make political use of it now,” she adds.

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