Caste cuts across party boundaries, says a Kuruba leader

Challenging BS Yeddyurappa How the leader is facing a caste-based rebellion from within
news Politics Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 13:46

It’s a time of covert caste one-upmanship within the BJP. Kuruba leader KS Eshwarappa has taken on his one-time close friend BS Yeddyurappa, who is a Lingayat, indicating a power struggle within the party, even as the Karnataka BJP is trying hard to diffuse the situation.

Things have not been well with the BJP since BS Yeddyurappa was named Karnataka party president in April. His party colleagues are unhappy with his unilateral decisions in appointing office bearers in June. Several of them, including KS Eshwarappa, have objected to many of BSY’s decisions. However, Eshwarappa went further and announced that he would revive a Kuruba organization that was formed under his guidance and through it, reach out to other backward castes.

The Sangolli Rayanna Brigade is the new avatar of the Sangolli Rayanna Hitarakshana Samiti, which was started about 10 years ago by Eshwarappa when he was minister for water resources in the BJP-JD(S) coalition government.

Sangolli Rayanna was a Kuruba leader who fought against the British in the army of the Rani of Kittur in the 19th century. Originally, it was an association of the Kuruba community, but Eshwarappa now wants the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade to represent more sections. (The Kuruba community is classified as a backward caste in Karnataka. In the theoretical caste hierarchy, it is a shepherd community.)

Eshwarappa’s move is being projected as a strategy to break into Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s hold over the Ahinda communities – Dalits, Backward Castes and Minorities – in the next elections in 2018. (Ahinda is a Kannada acronym which stands for these communities.)

But other than countering Siddaramaiah, the Brigade also envisages to make Eshwarappa formidable force within the BJP.  

The decision to rename the organization as Sangolli Rayanna Brigade has not been lost on anybody. Supporters of Yeddyurappa formed the BSY Brigade after he left the BJP to form the KJP. The group’s aim was to work to make the Lingayat leader Karnataka’s chief minister.

Although neither the Sangolli Rayanna Briagade nor the BSY Brigade are openly caste organizations, by tacit agreement, membership is open only to members of Kuruba or Lingayats  respectively.

In this context, what does the formation of the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade mean for the politics of the state?

The resurrection of the Brigade has to be looked at from two perspectives, says Muzaffar Assadi, Professor of Political Science at the University of Mysore. One, will Yeddyurappa steer the BJP’s return to power in the next election; and two, whether this strategy will bring Eshwarappa the votes he seeks.  

“Yeddyurappa has more enemies in the BJP than friends. Except for Shobha Karandlaje, they all want to use him to get ahead. Eshwarappa is trying to create a parallel power structure vis a vis Yeddyurappa within the BJP,” Assadi says.

As for forming the Brigade for political gains, Assadi says that although Eshwarappa is a Kuruba, he does not quite have the same standing in the community as a Kuruba or backward class leader that Siddaramaiah has.

“A small number of people who are disgruntled and disenchanted with Siddaramaiah may back Eshwarappa. But the majority of the backward classes support Siddaramaiah. The Dalit upsurge across the country will have its effect; the Dalit votes are unlikely to go to the BJP.”

Assadi says the Kurubas know that Eshwarappa doesn’t stand a chance of being made the chief minister even if the BJP comes to power. “The Kurubas know that they will be subservient to the Lingayats.”

This was because of the formula that the BJP discovered has worked for them in Karnataka. “For the past 20 years, the Li-Brah combination has worked for the BJP.” He explains that the BJP in Karnataka is built on the coalition between the Lingayats and the Brahmins, since the time of Veerendra Patil. “The Sangolli Rayanna Brigade will not bring dividends to Eshwarappa; it will de-stabilize and weaken the BJP,” Assadi says.

Political analyst Sandeep Shastri too says that Eshwarappa’s move is aimed more at creating an alternative power structure within the BJP. “The BJP’s mainstay is Yeddyurappa with the backing of the Lingayat community.”

However, Shastri thinks that the BJP’s move to “spread its social base” through the Brigade may pay some dividends. “Siddaramaiah is visibly a leader of Kurubas, and there is disenchantment among other backward communities that the Kurubas have benefitted. This could be a move to bring together the non-dominant caste votes. Eshwarappa appears to want to build such a position for himself within the party.”

The president of the Sangolli Rayanna Hitarakshana Samiti, former Bengaluru mayor and three-time councilor D Venkateshmurthy, is a Kuruba. He says the organization will be registered soon as a state-wide organization with bylaws.

Venkateshmurthy says that the Brigade will work for the political, social and educational uplift of not just the Backward Castes, but also the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. “We will start co-operative societies, souharda banks, hostels and take other measures for backward communities.”

Although he is a party member, he does not appear to be particularly bothered by the decisions of the core committee meeting on Tuesday, following which Arvind Limbavali said that no BJP leader would be allowed to be part of any organization outside the BJP.

Venkateshmurthy however, says caste cuts across party boundaries. “Whenever there is a caste meeting, everyone goes, cutting across party lines.” 

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