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Graveyards to gods, Karnataka Cong leader Satish Jarkiholi known to speak his mind

Swears by his “rationalist” beliefs, resigned from Siddaramaiah ministry earlier following govt’s failure to push ahead with an anti-superstition Bill

Known to speak his mind, including on issues that might trod politically incorrect ground, former Karnataka minister and Congress working president Satish Jarkiholi found himself in a fresh controversy Monday.

The 60-year-old said the word ‘Hindu’ had origins in Persian and the original word did not carry a pleasant meaning. Not just the BJP, even the Congress swiftly distanced itself from Jarkiholi’s remarks.

By all accounts, the sugar baron from Belagavi district in north Karnataka, the second of five Jarkiholi brothers, four of whom are in politics across parties, and a leader of the Scheduled Tribe Valmiki Nayak community, is an unusual politician — and an unusual businessman — for not letting his interests come in the way of his “rationalist” beliefs.

On December 6, 2014, when he was the excise minister in a barely one-year-old Congress government, Jarkiholi had dined and spent a night at a graveyard in Belagavi city in order to dispel superstition around graveyards.

Jarkiholi and associates were pressing at the time for the introduction of a Karnataka anti-superstition Bill by the Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah. They chose the death anniversary of the architect of the Constitution, B R Ambedkar, for the graveyard stay. “I want to bust myths that surround graveyards and the fear attached to them, and show that they are peaceful places,” the soft-spoken Congress leader said at the time, as always brief and to the point and not given to public outbursts.

He is widely believed to have quit the ministry in 2015 over issues such as the failure of the Siddaramaiah government to move on the anti-superstition Bill. Jarkiholi took the step despite his old association with Siddaramaiah; the two were together in the JD(S) before leaving the party for the Congress.

With his large reserves – the MLA from Yamakanamaradi, he declared assets worth over Rs 148 crore from his sugar and allied businesses in 2021 — Jarkiholi is also believed to have bank-rolled Siddaramaiah in the 2013 polls, when the Congress won and Siddaramaiah became CM.

Jarkiholi has also commented in the past that people like him and Microsoft founder Bill Gates had become wealthy without worshipping Goddess Lakshmi. One of the sources of his popularity in Belagavi is an annual body-building contest he organises for local youths under the aegis of his Satish Sugars business.

The latest remarks by Jarkiholi came at an event held Sunday in the Nippani town of Belagavi to celebrate the ideas of Buddha, Basavanna, and Ambedkar, who rebelled against Hindu ideologies and practices, as a counter to the BJP’s Hindutva.

“Where did the word Hindu originate from? Is it ours? It’s Persian. Then what is the relation between it (Hindu) and India? How did ‘Hindu’ become yours? This should be discussed,” he said. The senior Congress leader went on to add: “If you understand the meaning of the word, you will be ashamed… The meaning of the word Hindu is very dirty. I am not saying this. This is on the website… You have brought this religion, (and) word from somewhere else and are imposing it on us.” (The word Hindu is commonly understood to be derived from the Sindhu or Indus River.)

As the BJP in poll-bound Karnataka attacked the Congress leader, AICC general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala said Jarkiholi’s remarks were “deeply unfortunate” and the party condemned them. In-charge of Karnataka for the Congress, Surjewala said on social media: “Hinduism is a way of life and civilizational reality. Congress built our Nation to respect every religion, belief, and faith. This is the essence of India.”

Incidentally, Jarkiholi’s remarks come at a time when he has suggested that he could be among the Congress chief ministerial candidates if the party wins in 2023, putting him in competition with Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar.

Congress sources who worked closely with Jarkiholi when he was a minister in the Siddaramaiah government insist his resignation from the Cabinet was about the CM not taking decisive action on several issues, including the anti-superstition law, and not proceeding on it expeditiously.

Subsequently, in 2020, Jarkiholi was made a working president of the Congress. Last year, the party fielded him for the Belagavi Lok Sabha constituency bypoll, which he lost narrowly to Mangala Angadi, the widow of former BJP Union minister Suresh Angadi.