Book Excerpt
Devaraj Urs’s son-in-law MD Nataraj had formed the Indira Brigade to function like a powerful and robust intelligence unit, writes Jyoti Shelar.
PTI File photo

The anti-Indira Gandhi movement post the Emergency started making (Devaraj) Urs restless. He knew that his mere closeness with Indira Gandhi was not enough to run the state and command the respect of his ministers and people. He could feel the mounting pressure from Lingayat leaders of north Karnataka and the Vokkaliga leaders from the south, both of whom were aggressively trying to dominate over him on the political front. He began to realize that his proximity with Indira Gandhi was inconsequential outside New Delhi, the seat of the Congress high command. Sensing it was time to restrategize his political game, Urs began to work on three fronts. He started building his political, financial and muscle power.

His first move was to mobilize the backward communities and gather a significant number of supporters. To face the dominant Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, he sought the support of the other backward communities in the state such as the Kurubas (shepherds), the Edigas (toddy tappers) and the Ganigas (oil pressers). Even minorities such as the Kshatriya Marathas and the Muslims were pulled on board. Soon he was looked upon as the man who was sympathetic towards the downtrodden, which strengthened his political image. His increasing political clout also gave rise to an urgent need for a bigger cash coffer. Urs sought the support of liquor baron and industrialist Hari Khoday and his likes for financial power. But the much-needed muscle power at this point came from his son-in-law M.D. Nataraj.

Urs, who hailed from Hunsur Taluka in Mysuru, was married early to 11-year-old Chikkammanni. The couple had three daughters, Chandraprabha, Nagarathnammanni and Bharathi. While studying at Maharani College, Nagarathnammanni, who was lovingly called Nagarathna, fell in love with M.D. Nataraj, a medical student. Nataraj belonged to the Kuruba caste.

The dramatic turn of political events had led Urs to completely ignore his family. He was oblivious to the fact that Nagarathna had secretly married Nataraj. A fuming Urs used all the resources at his disposal to scoop out every detail about Nataraj’s life and family. His men came back with unpleasant information. Nataraj, as it turned out, was not the man whom Urs would have liked his daughter to marry. He was popular among women and led a life that was deemed inappropriate for the family member of a chief minister. Some also alleged that Nagarathna was not his first wife. After much persuasion by Nagarathna, Urs accepted the alliance and married off the couple in a grand ceremony. He even bought a house for them in Malleshwaram. Even though Urs wanted Nataraj to complete his degree and settle abroad with his daughter, he made him a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) upon the latter’s insistence. Nataraj had strong political ambitions and did not want to settle abroad.

By accepting Nataraj, political pundits believe that Urs played a masterstroke. He not only gained unconditional support of the Kurubas, but also won a political upper hand by accepting a man from a backward class as his son-in-law. As time passed, they grew closer and Urs started treating Nataraj like a son. Soon Nataraj rose to become the most powerful man in the party under his father-in-law’s leadership. The trust was mutual as Urs also relied on his advice for important decisions. At that time, R. Gundu Rao, who later went on to become Karnataka’s chief minister, and F.M. Khan were upcoming Youth Congress leaders. They were both close to Sanjay Gandhi, younger son of Indira Gandhi, and were said to be unhappy with Nataraj’s wild-card entry into the Congress party. Nataraj was well aware of the resentment and the way he was looked at within the party. To counter the hostility, he went a step ahead and formed the ‘Indira Brigade’, something on the lines of the Youth Congress. Unofficially though, it was an unorganized group of muscular men who were overzealous Indira Gandhi supporters.

Nataraj, in a press statement, had once said that he wanted to model Indira Brigade on the lines of Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB)—the main security agency of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Nataraj envisioned that his Indira Brigade would function like a powerful and robust intelligence unit. The main aim of the brigade was to protect Indira Gandhi. It is said that the formation of a brigade in her name had pleased the ‘Iron Lady’ immensely. She would inquire about the organization whenever she had visitors from Bengaluru in New Delhi.

Nataraj was looking for a strong man to lead the brigade. He found the ideal candidate while attending a Kannada Rajotsava event, celebrated on 1 November every year to commemorate the day of Unification of Karnataka. The man was M.P. Jayaraj, a pehelwan known for his rowdiness.

Nataraj had begun identifying himself as the brigadier and Jayaraj was inducted as second in command. The brigade, however, had no defined goals, organizational structure or even an office. It was more of an informal group of people, mainly rowdies, who took pride in being a part of something that had political approval. The members of the group did little constructive work and were often seen in gangs riding motorbikes, and creating menace for the locals. They went around flexing their muscles and boasting about their clout within the Congress party. Journalist R. Somanath, who has analysed the crime and politics of Bengaluru, described Indira Brigade as nothing but a group of local hooligans without an agenda. ‘The rowdies got a political stamp for their activities. They simply gave a respectful name to it and called it Indira Brigade.’

Many influential politicians of today were a part of Indira Brigade back then. It helped in strengthening Urs’s grip on Karnataka politics. He had finally found the muscle power that he had longed for. Due to lack of an organizational structure and clarity in terms of vision and ideology, Indira Brigade died an unceremonious death not too long after its inception. But it gave birth to a rowdy who, with strong political backing, shaped the organized crime world of Bengaluru.

Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Random House India from the book “The Bhais of Bengaluru” by Jyoti Shelar

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