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Caste politics at university level; Karnataka Congress' new game plan?

  • Siddaramaiah wants to rename all universities in Karnataka after social reformers
  • The Women’s University in Vijayapura has already been renamed as the Akka Mahadevi University
  • Siddaramaiah has sought the Centre’s permission to rename the Central University of Karnataka after B R Ambedkar
  • He intends to rename the Kalaburgi university after Basaveshwara, and other varsities after saint poets like Shishunala Sharifa 
  • Academics and political analysts say that the government is indulging in caste politics and destroying the academic atmosphere
  • Interestingly, the opposition has made no noise over this issue
Caste politics at the university level Karnataka govt new game plan
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First it was the Women’s University in Vijayapura. On June 11, the varsity was renamed after a 12th century saint poet Akka Mahadevi, a strong proponent of the Veerashaiva Bhakti movement.

Now, the move is to rename the Central University of Karnataka (CUK) in Kalaburgi. The Congress government wants to rename the seven-year-old university after B R Ambedkar. The government is not stopping at this. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah wants to rename all universities in Karnataka after social reformers or “mahatmas”.

After formally renaming the Women’s University as Akka Mahadevi University during an inaugural ceremony in Vijayapura on Sunday, Siddaramaiah, flanked by Veerashaiva mutt pontiffs on either side, said that the State government had written to the Ministry of Human Resources Department seeking its permission to rename the CUK. “Once that comes through, all varsities in the State will be named after social reformers or saint poets like Shishunala Sharifa, Kanakadasa and other mahatmas like them,” he had said.

One cannot help but wonder why the government has embarked upon the renaming spree, especially during the election year. It’s clear that the government is indulging in caste politics in a bid to appease various communities, be it the Lingayat or the minority groups.

Expressing discontent over the government’s move to rename CUK, its Vice-Chancellor of CUK, Prof H M Maheshwaraiah told Aisanet Newsable that it was an unbecoming trend. “An university should merely stand for its excellence. It should just go by the name ‘University’ like in the case of Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard universities. All these varsities have been named after the places they are located in. It’s evident that there is a political motivation behind this move. Universities should be bereft of religious affiliations, but it’s unfortunate that such decisions are being taken,” he said.

Maheshwaraiah said that the government had directly written to the MHRD and had not consulted CUK. He said that there are already eight universities in the country that have been named after B R Ambedkar. “There was no need to rename the Women’s University. The government could have set up an Akka Mahadevi Institute of International Women’s Studies and dedicated it after women achievers,” added Maheshwaraiah.     

Former Bangalore University vice-chancellor M S Thimmappa too said that it was alarming that the government was introducing politics into the academic field. Terming it as a bad precedent, Thimmappa said that the government was diverting students from their main pursuits by its “so called” symbolism. He also condemned the move to set up Akka Mahadevi’s statue at the Women’s University. “It’s tragic that the academic atmosphere is being destroyed by this so called symbolism. There are umpteen number of ways of honouring a social reformer or a historical personality, but the government is unabashedly indulging in caste politics. Also, if the varsity indulges in irregularities or malpractices, the illegality invariably associated with the name of the person that university goes by.”

Thimmappa also said that instead of spending on statues, the government should instead look at the right manner of spending. He said that most varsities were ailing for grants/funds, but the government was  not bothered to address the issue. “It’s election time, and the government wants to appease all communities by this symbolism. This is not only an insult to great personalities, but also a disservice to society,” added Thimmappa.  

Questioning the logic behind the renaming culture, Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnatak University, Dharwad, said that the “window dressing” of universities, was not an appreciable move. “Academics must be left free of nomenclatures with a religious tinge. It’s awkward that the government is dragging educational institutions into its politics. Excellence should come from within the university and not outside. Can the government guarantee that the quality of education will improve if the university is renamed?” 

Ramaswamy said that the social reformers were household names. “Basaveshwara should be practiced while Akka Mahadevi should be studied. If Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar wanted to name the University of Mysore after himself, nobody could have stopped him. But he had a democratic and tolerant mindset. There is huge fund crunch and the mode of teaching has become obsolete. We need to be preparing our youths to the competitive global environment. Instead, we are witness to such sad developments,” he said.

Ramaswamy also added that the Congress was still hung up on traditional politics of appeasement. 
“The Congress’s roots have dried up. The language it is employing is not reaching the Gen-X. Instead of actually working like a socialist, Siddaramaiah is indulging in populism. The Congress should re-design its agenda and rekindle its roots. Mere cosmetic changes will not help,” he added.

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