Is Basavanna Not a Harbinger of Development?

  • Author: Prasanna Translated by: Dr J K Suresh

“Are Ambanis and Adanis the only heralds of development? Is replacing the Lingayat eateries (Khanavalis) by McDonald’s a great step towards modernity? On the one hand, we have the ravings of the priestly class, and on the other the tyranny of capitalism; religious intolerance here, and economic oppression there. Do all these constitute development? Merely because Basavanna is a millennium old, is he therefore not fit to be considered a herald of development?” Deeply troubled by these questions, I went to North Karnataka seeking some answers.

This is the original land of Basava. It is backward now. People are discussing how it can be developed. Many who are a part of this debate are Basavanna’s followers. However, as though refuting his model for life and holding Basavanna responsible for the backwardness of North Karnataka, they are pressing forward with the Ambani-Adani model for development. As with other Gods, even Basavanna has been kept in the prison of splendor in their homes.

The only model of development they seem to believe in is that of Bengaluru, or New York or London. They desire that glittery private colleges, glass & concrete hospitals, factories that belch smoke 24×7, airports and five star hotels should soon pervade all of North Karnataka – for they believe that this is what development means.

Their belief does have a strong basis. The migration from North Karnataka of its smart middle classes has largely been towards Bengaluru. Governments, officials, politicians, industrialists – all of them – sit in Bengaluru and contemplate the prospects of North Karnataka. The intellectuals sit here and mull over the state of the region’s agriculture, handlooms and artisans. The poets sit in Bengaluru while writing fine poems about its villages. And so on. Curiously, it is from the air-conditioned comforts of distant Bengaluru that the money for public works in Northern, Southern, Middle etc Karnataka’s is released. Or is refused sanction! Bengaluru is the real and only Karnataka of today. Meanwhile, (as a consequence), the diseased vitals of Karnataka outside of Bengaluru are counting their last days!

There are indeed people who accept the Basavanna model. For them, development means the evolution of humans, environment and nature. But they are a minority. In a world where the majority has to always impose its way, these people are disregarded. One such person, who sees the actions of the Hyderabad Karnataka development board from near, spoke to me recently about this. In the three years since its inception, the board has spent nearly 4300 crore rupees from its coffers. As ever, most of the money found its way to road and building construction. A couple of hundred crores have been spent on chairs, computers etc. And a fair bit of money that does not get spent, gets sent back to Bengaluru. I asked him, Why is this so? He smiled and said, the board has no ability to generate ideas for spending money towards anything other than brick and mortar buildings.  Of course, in this context, we don’t really need to discuss corruption – it’s a given here, as in all public works.

I too had taken part in a few discussions regarding how North Karnataka ought to be developed. I deliberately took part in them to upset the Ambani-Adani model, and repeatedly posed the question to the participants: “Why cannot Basavanna be the harbinger of development?” Most officials who took part in the discussions were followers of Basava. Even those who were not Lingayats were his admirers. My arrows did find their target – “Do you believe that Basavanna was the herald of Dharma? If yes, what is Dharma? Is there Basava Dharma without working with one’s hands? Would the King Bijjala have retained Basavanna as his minister if he did not contribute to the economic well being of the kingdom of Kalyana?”

I continued. “In modern terms, Basava organized the producers! He enabled a disciplined approach towards production of goods and services by the Sharana’s! He compelled them to share a part of their earnings in the form of feeding the poor (Dasoha). It was because the poor became Sharana’s and organized themselves that the kingdom of Kalyana saw streamlined production. Kalyana consequently became affluent. With a desire to take control of this affluence, the upper caste and upper class people manipulated Bijjala’s son Jagadeva to embark upon the massacre of the Sharana’s. They desired power over men, production without dissent, streamlined trade and a society without alcohol and infidelity. But they did not want to distribute profits! Basava shared profits and reduced the distance between the rich and the poor.”

As I spoke, the participants nodded their heads in agreement. I felt emboldened to continue: “You seem to believe that the Dharma of the old and the economy of today are different! Is this not self-contradictory? Would it not be detrimental for humanity to adopt the stand that labor and the machine are equivalent or exchangeable? Perhaps you also believe that were Basavanna to be alive today, he would have sat in his car and carried out his work! Or that in the name of feeding people, he would have partaken of feasts in the homes of the rich! Can the Ambanis and the Adanis, or their Kannada imitations, who are behind this new economy, work for the benefit of society as a whole? Will they share profits of lacs of crore rupees with the toilers on the land, or on the handlooms of North Karnataka? Do you know that the difference between the poor and rich have increased a thousand fold since the time of Basavanna under the new model of development?”

A wall of silence greeted my words. I continued in a somewhat dramatic fashion: “Why do the poor of today neither labor nor carry out feeding of the poor? Who took away their self-confidence through advertisements, TV and the Internet? Who are the people that stoke religious extremism? Who are the people that are distancing the devotees from their Gods? Isn’t the new economy and developmental model doing all this? If Basava’s model is one that brings light, the Ambani Adani model can only bring darkness to society”.

With a pause, I continued: “This economy is a mere agent of foreign companies. What they have done in their own countries to Jesus, they shall certainly do to Basava in your region. Or what they have done to Prophet Muhammed in their own countries, they would do unto your Basava-Kanaka-Purandara-Dada Peer. They have imprisoned saints in the shackles of religion. The time has come to release them for the sake of social reform today!”

“Fight back! As the Vachanakara’s, Sufi and Christian Saints did – rebel non-violently! Use your plough, handloom, spindle and Vachana’s as the weapons in this fight! Rebel against this new economy! Neither is Dharma old, nor is this economy a new find! They are contemporary. Working with one’s hands is the Dharma of this age, and every age!” I continued, hearing a few murmurs of agreement from the audience.

“Basavanna’s economics was ethical, for it converted money into an instrument for social good (Dasoha), a means to share wealth with all and earn the goodwill of people. Basava’s economics does not multiply money, nor bring outrageous profits! Those who desire obscene profits ought to take Manchanakramita – a sworn enemy of Basava – as their God.”

These words were a bit sharp – people sat up and listened. “Those who admire Ambanis and Adanis are indeed a modern incarnation of Manchanakramita. The mobiles they have locked around your necks are the corrupted Ishtalinga’s for you!”

I explained how Basava’s economics is based on labor. “Given where we are today, we ought to learn how to tolerate labor and make it an essential part of our lives; to assimilate labor into our routines; even if not all at once, slowly and with patience! On the contrary, we take pleasure in traveling with Manchanakramita in airplanes, and as villagers, fallen for his saffron clothes, Rudrakshi, Vibhooti and command over Samskruta. Do remember that Manchanakramita kills everyone, ultimately.”

I appealed to them, finally: “I beg of you, think of the wondrous results of taking Basavanna as the true herald of development! If you do, why merely North Karnataka or India – indeed the whole world can be developed in a true and proper way through the model of Basava! Let me explain my words. Till 1947, the developmental model we followed under Gandhi’s leadership was the Basavanna Model! Did we not call it Gram Swaraj? You have not forgotten the grand struggles of North Karnataka for freedom, have you? Truth is, we abandoned it and are unashamedly following the path of Manchanakramita! We are on the way to making India another Singapore.”

To sum up, agriculture and handlooms are the two eyes of North Karnataka. To blind them and give them the goggles made by Ambani and Adani to help them walk with crutches is certainly not development!

Prasanna, 13.09.2018 Translated by: Dr J K Suresh

Original Article in Kannada can be found at :

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#Basavanna #Basava #Sharana #Development #UttaraKarnataka