“I am a victim of suppression and hence couldn’t get the CM’s post. I reluctantly accepted the deputy CM’s post, in which I was not interested,” Parameshwara said.

Missed CM post because Im Dalit Parameshwaras remark raises important questions
news Politics Monday, February 25, 2019 - 19:05

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara stoked a political storm when he claimed on Sunday that he was denied the post of Chief Minister in the state because he belonged to a Dalit community. Parameshwara, who is the Deputy Chief Minister in the current JD(S)-Congress coalition government in the state, also contended that Congress leaders had denied him the chance to become the Chief Minister.

He was speaking to a gathering of the Chalavadi community in Davangere when, in a moment of striking candidness, Parameshwara revealed that he felt that late Congress leader B Basavalingappa, former KPCC presidents KH Ranganath and Mallikarjun Kharge, should have been made CMs, but were denied a chance because they were Dalits. “Basavalingappa missed the Chief Ministerial post and so did KH Ranganath. My elder brother Mallikarjuna Kharge also could not become the Chief Minister. I missed it thrice. Somehow after much dilemma they made me the Deputy Chief Minister,” he said, according to PTI.

“I am a victim of suppression and hence couldn’t get the CM’s post. I reluctantly accepted the deputy CM’s post, in which I was not interested,” Times of India quoted him as saying.

Parameshwara’s comments have reignited a long standing debate in Karnataka's political circles about the representation of Dalit leaders in politics.

"One of the first leaders in the state to voice the issue of Dalit representation in politics was Basavalingappa, who was prominent during Devaraj Urs' time as Chief Minister. He also had a strong view that because he was a Dalit, he was not given his due in leading the state. He also coined the term Boosa Sahitya – since literature did not reflect the reality on the ground," explains Sandeep Shastri, a noted political analyst and Pro Vice-chancellor of Jain University. Boosa Sahitya was a term used to describe the lack of ground-level connect in the quality of works of Kannada literature.

"Another Dalit leader who came close to becoming CM was Rachaiah in 1996. He was then the Home Minister and was overlooked in favour of JH Patel. Two decades later, Mallikarjun Kharge was similarly overlooked in favour of Siddaramaiah," says Shastri.

He further added that the lack of consolidation of Dalit votes was contributing to the lack of Dalit leaders emerging from the state. “Most Chief Ministers have been either Lingayats or Vokkaligas. The challenge to these communities came from the other backward caste leaders like Siddaramaiah. In between, the Dalit voice and representation is left out. The Dalit vote is equally distributed in favor of parties and has led to non-consolidation. This has hindered a leader from the community emerging as a candidate," he opines.

His view is echoed by Rajendran Prabhakar, a Dalit rights activist based in Bengaluru who believes that political parties are not yet confident to project a Dalit person as a prominent candidate or leader. "They are scared that he/she will not be accepted by the larger savarna castes including Brahmins. There are conceptions that a Dalit person sitting in the Chief Minister's chair would make it impure. No party wants to be answerable to a Dalit Chief Minister," he says.

It is not just the Congress party which has been accused of casteism. In an audio tape purportedly of a conversation involving BJP legislators including BS Yeddyurappa released earlier this month, Shivannagouda Naik, a BJP MLA, was allegedly heard making casteist remarks. "You'll make history by making a Veerashaiva as CM. Who is Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah? They have no caste, nothing. For us, we'll get the credit that a Lingayat became CM. You'll get that credit. It'll have long life," he reportedly said.

Parameshwara is the first Dalit person to be named Deputy Chief Minister in Karnataka while there has been no Dalit leader made Chief Minister in the state yet. Parameshwara's comments over the issue come at a time the JD(S)-Congress coalition alliance has been under scrutiny ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in which both parties have entered into a seat-sharing arrangement.

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