It was a show of strength by the Vokkaliga community, as thousands of them along with Congress and JD(S) cadres gathered at Bengaluru’s National College grounds on Wednesday to lend support to Congress leader and former Minister DK Shivakumar. DK Shivakumar, who hails from the Vokkaliga community, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on September 3 on charges of money laundering.
The location of National College in Basavanagudi was significant given that it’s situated in a BJP stronghold, Bengaluru south. The protest march was not just to portray DKS, as he is popularly known, as the Congress’ Vokkaliga face, but to also turn his arrest into a caste issue.
The Vokkaliga community, hailing from south Karnataka makes up 11% of the state's population, and have traditionally voted for the JD(S) as HD Deve Gowda is seen as the community's tallest leader. With DK Shivakumar being the only prominent Vokkaliga face in the Karnataka Congress, the party is trying to strengthen his position as a Vokkaliga leader. The massive protest held in Bengaluru was an attempt to solidify his presence as not just a Vokkaliga leader but also one who has the support of the grassroots.
On the other hand, the BJP has for decades been seen as a Lingayat party with Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa hailing from the powerful community that comprises 14% of the state population. In an attempt to rid itself of the Lingayat tag, the BJP appointed three Deputy CMs, one each from the Lingayat, Vokkaliga and Dalit communities.
Solidarity and consolidation
With Vokkaligas rallying behind DKS, the Congress hopes it will break the BJP’s attempts to consolidate the opposition’s voter base in its favour.
Protests had broken out last week in Kanakapura, Shivakumar’s home constituency following his arrest, with several supporters raising slogans against the BJP, accusing the party of trying to sabotage the Vokkaliga community. The intensity of the protests in Kanakapura was such that CM Yediyurappa too softened his stance on Shivakumar’s arrest. “I will be the happiest person if he (DK Shivakumar) comes out of this safely,” Yediyurappa had said.
Among the organisations that led Wednesday’s protest march include Vokkaliga Sangha, Vishwa Vokkaliga Maha Vedike, Vokkaliga Kempegowda Yuva Vedike, Nadaprabhu Vokkaliga Kendra and Kannada Rakshana Vedike. They gave a call for a large-scale protest following news of DK Shivakumar’s daughter being summoned by the ED.
“We are here to show solidarity with DK Shivakumar and to show him that he is not alone in this fight. We are here to show him support and say that the entire state is with him,” said Narayana Gowda, President of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, who is also a member of the Vokkaliga community.
Speaking to TNM, a Congress leader said that by reaching out to the sentiments of fellow Vokkaligas, the party could put pressure on the BJP in connection with DK Shivakumar’s arrest.
“The BJP is not just targeting Congress leaders, who pose a threat to them politically, they are also trying to sabotage a strong Vokkaliga leader like DK Shivakumar. We just want to show everyone that the BJP is not doing any favours to the Vokkaliga community by appointing Ashwathnarayana as the Deputy CM. So many Vokkaligas have come to support DK Shivakumar. This just shows that they too know that the BJP will always be a Lingayat party. The protest was meant to reiterate that,” the Congress leader alleged.
Why Kumaraswamy backs DKS
Despite the Congress and JD(S) coalition falling apart and being traditional rivals in the Old Mysuru region, former Chief Minister and Ramanagara MLA HD Kumaraswamy came out in support of DK Shivakumar. Kumaraswamy had accused the BJP of indulging in vindictive politics when the ED had announced DK Shivakumar’s arrest.
“Opposition leaders are easy victims of power misuse. In public life, we need to be strong to face baseless allegations and conspiracies. I am sure Mr DK Shivakumar is strong enough to face this vindictive agenda against him,” Kumaraswamy had said.
JD(S) insiders say that Kumaraswamy’s statement in support of Shivakumar was to show solidarity and unite the members of the community.
“By showing that he has the back of a fellow Vokkaliga, Kumaraswamy is only ensuring that the JD(S)’ vote bank does not turn to the BJP,” said a source in the JD(S). Significantly, however, the former PM and JD(S) supremo Deve Gowda has remained silent on DKS’s arrest. “The JD(S) obviously does not want Shivakumar to become the next Vokkaliga face in Karnataka. Deve Gowda wants Kumaraswamy to succeed him. If the full force of the JD(S) was to be behind Shivakumar, over 10 lakh people would have gathered in Bengaluru for the protest,” the JD(S) source pointed out.
However, whether Vokkaligas will continue to rally behind DK Shivakumar and the Congress, especially at the time of the elections, remains to be seen.