On 7 December 2017, Karnataka’s chief minister, the Congress leader Siddaramaiah, addressed an event in the Uttara Kannada district marking the inauguration of several public-works programmes by the state government. “They accuse us of being anti-Hindu. Are we not Hindus?” he asked the audience. “My name is Siddarama. My name too has bhagwan Ram’s name. We are the devotees of Lord Rama and Hanuman. … The real Hindu is one who loves all religions. You judge who the real Hindus are. Us or BJP leaders?”
Then, the minister for public works in Siddaramaiah’s government, HC Mahadevappa, took the stage and also declared his allegiance to Hinduism. And soon after, the medium- and large-scale industries minister, RV Deshpande, informed the audience that he too was a devout Hindu. “By birth, I am a Hindu,” Deshpande said. “All other people are my bandhu”—brothers.
Siddaramaiah and his ministers’ scramble to prove their Hindu credentials surprised many in the state. For years, the chief minister had embraced the moniker of an “ahinda” leader—a Kannada term that is an acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits.