A week ago, Dattatreya Hosabale was the chief guest at a function to celebrate the birth centenary of renowned Kannada poet Gopalakrishna Adiga in Bengaluru. Datta to his close friends, Dattaji to the Sangh Parivar and HS Dattatreya to others, the 66-year-old spoke eloquently about Adiga, the pioneer of neo-modernist poetry in Kannada.
He extensively quoted from Adiga’s poems and recalled his long association with the poet, who died in the early 1990s.
Adiga was a unique character in the Kannada literary world. A professor of English literature, he had revolutionised Kannada literature in the 1950s and 1960s through his pathbreaking poems. It was a tectonic shift during those days. He was a supporter of the Jana Sangh (the BJP’s predecessor) and had even unsuccessfully contested the 1971 Parliament elections as its candidate from Bengaluru South. His political leanings notwithstanding, Adiga has had a huge following among centrists, left liberals and even communists in Karnataka (that is true even today).
Hosabale, who has been appointed the general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was the right person to speak about such a paradoxical literary figure. He himself is a voracious reader of Kannada literature and has studied English literature at Bangalore University in the 1970s.
Hosabale is considered an affable personality. For all his hardcore RSS stance, Hosabale is some kind of a liberal, claims a section of his old friends who have shifted to other ideologies long ago.
An RSS full-timer, he is well-read, always smiling and open to new thinking, even if he does not agree with them. He has friends cutting across ideologies.
Hosabale is from a farming background, unlike most other RSS top leaders. Born in 1955 at a small, areca-growing village, Hosabale, in Shimoga district, HS Dattatreya dropped his initials “HS”, adding Hosabale to his name as a suffix or surname.
When he was born, the socialist movement was at its peak in his village and surrounding areas. “Kagodu Sathyagraha”, independent India’s first non-violent movement of landless farmers against feudal landlords, took place less than 10 kilometres away from Hosabale in 1954. Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist giant, had landed at Kagodu to support the farmers, drawing international attention to that small hamlet.
Hosabale grew up in a socialist atmosphere in Shimoga district. It was a direct fight between them and the ruling Congress then. The RSS was a small organisation restricted to a few villages and towns, and the Jana Sangh was nowhere to be seen.
Interestingly, he escaped from the influence of socialism and embraced the RSS in his student days as an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, or ABVP, member. After his schooling in his village and further education in nearby Sagara town, he joined the National College, Bangalore, to pursue his graduate degree. Later, he did MA in English literature from Bangalore University.
During those heady days of anti-Indira Gandhi sentiment and the Emergency, he even went to jail under the MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) and was released a year later.
According to renowned Kannada writer and former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor HS Shivaprakash, who was his senior in the university, Hosabale is a nice person who has no airs. “He was a good friend. He was friendly with everyone including his ideological rivals,” he said.
Another friend of his, who did not wish to be identified, said: “He is from a committed RSS family. But grew up observing and witnessing socialism, Congress, farmers’ movement, communist movements etc. That’s why it is easy to deal with him. Despite being a hardcore RSS man, he is open to new thinking, new ideas and new approaches. He has always maintained an excellent personal relationship with everyone, including his ideological rivals. I think his elevation to the number two post in the RSS may lead to a big shift in the thinking and direction of the saffron brigade. Earlier, it was not possible for someone like him to rise in the highly closed or opaque RSS hierarchy,” he said.
Hosabale has been a keen observer and sometimes even a participant in the activities of the Kannada intellectual world. He was closely associated with legendary editor and writer YN Krishnamurthy, popularly known as YNK. YNK was an ideology-neutral person, who had always backed liberal thinking and mentored a generation of great writers and artists in the Kannada cultural world.
He has also founded and edited a Kannada magazine, “Aseema”.
His old friends claim that Hosabale had an excellent rapport with some communist leaders and had great personal regards for them.
When a harsh critic of the RSS and an ace editor, P Lankesh, wrote his autobiography, “Hulimaavina Mara” (A Sour Mango Tree), Hosabale was one of the first persons to read that and comment on it. In his private circles, he had discussed it with a great interest, often questioning Lankesh’s intellectual integrity.
After he shifted his base from Karnataka to north India, his visits to home have become irregular. A person who leads a very simple life, travelling by bus or train, he has not lost the touch with anyone or anything that is happening back home.
A multilingual person, he is fluent in Kannada, English, Hindi, Sanskrit and Tamil.
Incidentally, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa is from his neighbouring taluk, Shikaripura, and both have been friends for almost 50 years. Some insiders claim that he had played a key role in bringing Yediyurappa back into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fold, just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Hosabale is reportedly close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. With his elevation, the relationship between the RSS and the government is expected to be smooth.
Before him, two other RSS stalwarts from Karnataka, HV Sheshadri and KS Sudarshan, have held the post of Sara Karyavaha, or general secretary. Sudarshan later went on to head the RSS. Will Dattatreya Hosabale be the second person from Karnataka to do that in the near future?