Siddaramaiah has been very Kannada-centric, making him less appealing to English media, but the rationalist bill could well be the bridge he needs before next year's elections
Bengaluru: Online searches for “Black magic" throw up hundreds of pop-ups for services promising everything from remedies to heartbreak and misfortune to the destruction of enemies and even relief in court cases.
However, most of the names and numbers are those of astrologers —ironically, one of the few practices left out of The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017, that was passed by the lower house of the state legislature last Thursday.
Across the state, including Bengaluru—the IT capital of India—the clamour for such a bill began late in 2013, soon after the Congress stormed into power with Siddaramaiah, a person known to many as an ‘atheist’, as its chief min ister.
Siddaramaiah championed a bill modelled on neighbouring Maharashtra’s The Black Magic Prevention and Prohibition of Exploiting Practices Bill, passed on 13 December 2013—four months after the assassination of Narendra Dabholkar, a rationalist and founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS, or Maharashtra Eradication of Superstition Committee) on 20 August 2013 in Pune, while he was out on his morning walk.
“It is a beginning and we go under the premise of something is better than nothing," said Narendra Nayak, president of the Federation of Indian Rationalists Association (FIRA).
However, he and others like him say that bill only lists out extreme practices and conveniently keeps out every-day practices like vaastu and astrology, mostly on account of the patronage they receive from politicians themselves.
Dabholkar’s murder was followed by three more assassinations of rationalist thinkers—senior Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Govind Pansare on 16 February 2015 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, M.M Kalburgi on 30 August 2015 in Dharwad, Karnataka and Gauri Lankesh, a senior journalist and activist on 5 September in Bengaluru—all of whom had backed anti-superstition legislation in their respective states.
Analysts like Narendar Pani, professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), say that introducing such a bill in itself has a higher purpose for Siddaramaiah, resonating with style of home-grown socialist politics. A person known to be agnostic toward the caste system, Siddaramaiah, stormed into power with his AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) philosophy. He commissioned a caste census in 2015 to challenge the dominant caste narrative in Karnataka and provide higher reservations to his core voter base.
Pani said that Siddaramaiah, who has been enjoying growing popularity and power, has been very Kannada-centric, making him less appealing to the English media but the rationalist bill could well be the bridge he needs before next year’s assembly elections.
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