Hindutva group marches with swords in Udupi on Gandhi Jayanthi, calls for Hindu rashtra

Udupi MLA K Raghupathi Bhat was seen participating enthusiastically with Hindu Jagarane Vedike members, who were chanting slogans, calling for a Hindu rashtra.
Hindu Jagarana Vedike march in Udupi, men wearing white kurtas and saffron turbans are marching holding flags and swords
Hindu Jagarana Vedike march in Udupi, men wearing white kurtas and saffron turbans are marching holding flags and swords
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On Sunday morning, a rally of over 200 people belonging to different faiths and carrying Indian flags, marched through the busy city bus stand area in Udupi in Karnataka. AR Rahman's rendition of Vande Mataram blared over the speakers and the rally — Sab Ko Sanmati De Bhagwan — which began at a temple, stopped at a mosque, a church and ultimately ended at the Gandhi Bhavan in the coastal town.

Hours later, a rally at least fifty times bigger went along a similar route. This rally, by the Hindutva group Hindu Jagarana Vedike, had over 10,000 people chanting slogans, with a few of them brandishing swords, to the backdrop of percussion-heavy beats. At one point, a chant broke out — "we will build a Hindu rashtra," with dignitaries including the local MLA Raghupathi Bhat enthusiastically endorsing the idea by waving his hands along to it.

The speeches at the first rally, organised by Sahabalve, a coalition of organisations working for communal harmony, promoted interfaith dialogue. "If you see the stage here, you will understand there are people of all backgrounds. For us, there is no notion that one town is for Hindus and another town is for Muslims. When we come out of our house, we meet people of all faiths, who eat different kinds of food and follow different cultures. Sometimes they live next to our house. This is why interfaith harmony is important, and if people live in coexistence and love, it allows people to live with peace of mind," Amrith Shenoy, a Congress politician and the president of Sahabalve said.

‘Worship weapons’: Hindu Jagarana Vedike

In the other rally by the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, Amrith Shenoy’s message of coexistence was irreconcilable as a series of incendiary speeches called for Hindus to take up weapons. "There should be a weapon in every Hindu household. In the next Ayudha pooja, Hindus should not worship cycles, mixers or grinders, but they should worship weapons. Let us cultivate the mindset to use those weapons. This is the aim of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike," Shrikant Shetty Karkala, an Udupi-based television reporter who made the introductory speech said.

Referring to the hijab controversy which began in a college in Udupi, Shrikant Shetty said that the Hindu Jagarana Vedike was instrumental in instigating Hindu boys to face off against their Muslim classmates over the issue. "The saffron turbans from Durga Daud are now being seen in colleges. It is because of Durga Daud that society is changing and is becoming aware. If there is another dispute, it won't just be saffron turbans; there could also be a thousand swords," Shrikant Shetty said.

Durga Daud 2022 held on October 2.

MLA chants along for 'Hindu Rashtra'

Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat was seen in the rally chanting a cry for 'Hindu rashtra' along with the crowd, prompting criticism from activists and lawyers. “The MLA has taken an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and a call for “Hindu rashtra” is going against that oath,” Swaroop Mamidipudi, an advocate raised in Udupi, told TNM. 

The rally by the Hindu Jagarana Vedike started from the Mahishamardini temple in Kadiyali before heading towards the Udupi city bus stand and ending at the venue of the programme outside the Udupi Krishna temple. The rally included a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji with chants of "Jai Shivaji, the one who built a Hindu rashtra" sung by the crowd. The Maratha ruler has increasingly become a prominent symbol at events organised by Hindutva groups in Udupi, similar to the way Hindutva groups have used the historical figure to mobilise backward castes in Telangana. 

Statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji at the rally.

Hindutva groups mobilise around Shivaji, Savarkar

Hindutva supporters in Basrur, a port town close to Kundapur in Udupi, have been celebrating ‘Independence day’ for the last five years to honour the Maratha ruler and his naval expedition to the village in the 17th century. "He is a Hindu king who saved Hindu culture by building an army and opposing Muslim rulers. He needs to be celebrated more," said Harish Poojary, a businessman from Udupi who was part of the Durga Daud rally. 

There was also a tableau hailing Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, continuing BJP's attempts in Karnataka to position the RSS ideologue as a prominent freedom fighter. In August, a controversy erupted in Udupi when a 'Jai Hindu Rashtra' banner with a photograph of Savarkar was installed at a circle in the town on Independence Day. 

“Nathuram Godse was Savarkar’s follower, and he was an accused in the murder case. On the international stage, BJP leaders hail Gandhi. But why do Hindutva groups not put up posters of Gandhiji at their events?” asked Amrith Shenoy, Sahabalve member and Congress leader. Savarkar was one of the men accused of plotting to kill Gandhi before he was acquited by the trial court led by Justice Atma Charan hearing the murder case. Shortly after Savarkar’s death, the Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission, which examined fresh evidence unearthed by the police, held that Savarkar was closely involved in the planning of Gandhi’s murder. 

Amrith Shenoy, Congress leader and Sahabalve member.

Hardline Hindutva leader calls for Muslim boycott

Another speaker at Durga Daud, Kajal Ben Shingala aka Kajal Hindustani, a hardline Hindutva crusader from Gujarat, called for the boycott of Muslim businesses in Karnataka. “The money you give them, with the same money, they take away (elope with) your daughters. With the same money, they buy arms and gunpowder, run training camps, and prepare boys to become jihadis so they can behead people,” Kajal said to applause from the crowd. 

She also targeted Bollywood, referring to the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai, and asked the crowd that Karan Johar, in particular, should not be allowed. “There is a cultural environment with temples in south India, but Karan Johar will show temples and say Ali Maula. Do not let him enter the south,” Kajal said. She picked out three Hindi films which discussed interfaith love — Atrangi Re, Toofan and Kedarnath — and accused the films of promoting ‘Love Jihad’, a right-wing conspiracy which claims Muslim men are deliberately marrying Hindu women to convert them to Islam. 

Sahabalve rally at Jamia Masjid in Udupi

Karnataka Minister for Kannada and Culture Sunil Kumar, Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat and former Congress leader Pramod Madhwaraj, who recently joined the BJP, were part of the roadshow by the Hindu Jagarana Vedike in Udupi. Pramod Madhwaraj, however, was not part of the event that took place at the end of the rally. Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur, who was announced as the chief guest of the programme did not make it to the event citing illness. Congress leaders including Amrith Shenoy and Ramesh Kanchan were part of the rally held by Sahabalve. 

Sahabalve rally at the Narayana Guru temple in Udupi

Sahabalve rally for communal harmony in Udupi. 

‘Sahabalve’ calls for harmony

Earlier in the day, the rally for peace by Sahabalve began at the Narayana Guru temple in Bannanje in Udupi at 10.30 am. The group marched to the Jamia Masjid on Mosque Road in the town before proceeding to the Mother of Sorrows Church and lastly to Gandhi Bhavan. Dalit Sangharsha Samiti district chief convener Sunder Master, retired priest Father William Martis, maulana Abdul Rashid Nadvi, and social activist Phaniraj K were among the speakers at the event. "Even though we may be only 200 in number, we should remember that it was a handful of people who went to riot-hit areas following Independence and spoke the language of peace and co-existence and helped calm the situation down," Phaniraj said. “The number of people who gathered is not important. Even if we are a handful of people, we should continue to propagate the message of peace,” he added.

Photographs by Dhruv Khanna and Rahul Menon

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