A communal dispute has broken out over the construction of a 114-ft statue of Jesus Christ at the Harobele village of Kanakapura Taluka in Ramanagara district, 70 km from the state capital.
Hindutva groups have been opposing the construction since December 25 when senior Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar laid the foundation stone for the statue at Harobele at a well-publicised function.
The issue came to a boil on Monday (January 13) when hundreds of activists from different parts of the state belonging to the RSS, VHP and Hindu Jagarana Vedike descended on Kanakapura town and marched in protest to the Tahsildar’s office.
The march was led by Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, one of the most prominent Sangh Parivar leaders in Karnataka, who has several cases of hate speech against him. The event was marked by provocative slogans and speeches against the minority communities.
“This is the land of Krishna, not Christ. We will construct a statue at the same spot dedicated to Indian saints such as Narayana Guru, Basava or even a ram temple,” Bhat told the restive crowd at the protest. “This fight is not merely against a statue but against the larger project of Christians to convert innocent Hindus,” he said.
Dismissing allegations that the Sangh was trying to disrupt peace in the region, Bhat said, “We are trying to awaken Hindus who are sleeping. What’s provocative about that?”
Bhat accused Shivakumar of trying to curry favour with Sonia Gandhi by appeasing Christians and said, “If you wanted you could have got the statue of even Mahatma Gandhi we wouldn’t have obstructed, but we obstruct your idea of getting a Sonia Gandhi statue here.”
Speaking to The Federal senior BJP leader and MLC CN Ashwathnarayan also lashed out at Shivakumar and his brother DK Suresh saying, “The hill on which the Christians have been given permission to build the Jesus statue is actually an ancient Hindu site dedicated to the deity Munneshwara. The DK brothers have become agents of the Vatican and should be called Vatican Brothers.”
Ruckus to target Shivakumar?
Almost 10 acres of land was granted to the church in Harobele by the previous JD(S)-Congress coalition government at the insistence of Shivakumar who was a senior minister in that government. The village has special emotional significance for Shivakumar as the people of this village are his earliest supporters from the time he entered politics using the Zilla Panchayat route in the 1980s.
Although a few BJP leaders had tried to oppose the allotment several months ago, the issue heated up only when Bhat took note of Shivakumar’s visit to the village on Christmas to lay the foundation stone.
Soon, it became a major online campaign with Sangh activists carrying out several concerted social media campaigns to build momentum against the statue. Earlier this month, a case was registered in Bengaluru after a meme surfaced in which an image of Jesus was superimposed with the face of Shivakumar.
The BJP government of BS Yeddyurappa, which was treading a cautious line until the Sangh outfits launched their campaign, has now ordered the church to stop construction. The CM has also ordered an enquiry into the allotment of the land by the previous government and transferred the Tahsildar who processed the approvals for the project.
Catholic Christianity has a history going back several centuries in the villages of Ramanagara and Kanakapura. In fact, the Catholic church in Harobele, one of the oldest in Karnataka, was established in 1675. Importantly, 980 of the 1,000 families here are Catholics.
Meanwhile, political observers say that the Sangh’s offensive in the region is aimed at finishing the political career of Shivakumar, who was until recently behind bars on corruption charges.
The BJP has no mass base in South Karnataka where the dominant and landed Vokkaliga caste holds sway. Shivakumar is seen as a Vokkaliga leader in this belt where his only competition is in the form of his caste brethren and political rivals, the Gowdas of the JD (S).