One of the major reasons for Siddaramaiah to become the Congress’ CM candidate in 2013 was his ability to gather support from the Kuruba community.

What has Siddaramaiah done exclusively for us Kurubas upset over unmet promises
news Politics Friday, January 26, 2018 - 16:39

In 2013, anti-incumbency coupled with the fact that several BJP leaders went to prison for an illegal mining scam had ensured a sweeping victory for the Congress in Karnataka.

However, one of the major reasons for Siddaramaiah to become the Congress’ Chief Ministerial candidate was his ability to gather the support of the entire Kuruba community in the state.

On Thursday, 20 zilla panchayat level leaders in Belagavi defected from the Congress and joined the JD(S). Most of these leaders belonged to the Kuruba community. On that very evening, the Congress went into damage-control mode. It offered the current Transport Minister HM Revanna, who has the support of the OBC population, another responsibility – he was made the district in-charge Minister for Raichur, where he wields substantial influence.

With the Assembly elections just three months away, Congress insiders say that Siddaramaiah has managed to alienate a sizable chunk of the Kuruba community over the last five years, especially since he became Chief Minister.

Why is the Kuruba community unhappy with Siddaramaiah?

Speaking to TNM, a former Congress leader who belongs to the Kuruba community says that Siddaramaiah has reneged on his promises to the Kuruba community.

“An unspoken agreement a politician makes with the community he represents is very simple. If he is brought to power, they expect to be uplifted. Look at the Lingayat chief ministers of the past, they have built educational institutions, hospitals and uplifted the community. Siddaramaiah was expected to do the same when the Kuruba community had his back. In five years, he has broken all promises and they feel betrayed,” he said.

Corroborating these claims, a Congress leader said that Siddaramaiah had promised to elevate the Kuruba community’s social status by categorising them as scheduled tribes.

“Kurubas belong to the OBC community. During the previous elections, Siddaramaiah had promised to categorise them as ST but that has not happened. To some extent, we can agree that the welfare schemes in the Bhagya series is helping the poor. But that is not how the Kurubas see it. Their question is simple – what has Siddaramaiah done exclusively for the Kurubas?” the Congress leader says.

Party insiders say that Siddaramaiah had promised to fund the Kaginele Kanaka Guru Peetha, the mutt revered by the Kuruba community.

“Through the various mutts under this Peetha, schools and colleges were supposed to be built for the upliftment of the Kuruba community. In the last five years, the Kurubas have remained in the same position, socially and economically. Hence, the community feels betrayed,” he adds.

How this may affect the Congress in the upcoming polls

In 2017, two major Dalit leaders defected from the Congress – the former Nanjangud MLA V Srinivas Prasad shifted to the BJP and AH Vishwanath, a prominent Kuruba leader, defected to the JD(S).

A senior Congress leader says that ever since Mallikarjun Kharge shifted to national politics after he became the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, local Dalit leaders have become disappointed.

“Mallikarjun Kharge is not so active in state politics anymore. Besides, the reason why Siddaramaiah could portray himself as the Ahinda (Kannada acronym for Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and minorities) leader was because he had the support of Srinivas Prasad and Vishwanath. With Vishwanath’s defection, he has taken away a sizable chunk of the Kuruba votes to the JD(S). Now, Vishwanath can argue that he defected because Siddaramaiah is not working for the upliftment of the community, which in this case is true to a certain extent,” the Congress leader adds.

Party insiders say that an air of uncertainty prevails in the Congress as several prominent vote banks that were loyal to the party may shift allegiances this time around, especially after Vishwanath’s defection.

A third contender for Kuruba votes?

The Congress leader says that a recent survey conducted by the state intelligence revealed that although Siddaramaiah has managed to retain support in certain pockets of the state, in some areas the Kuruba votes are split.

“There is a third contender for Kuruba votes – BJP’s Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council, KS Eshwarappa. Being from the Kuruba community himself, Eshwarappa has managed to strengthen the Kuruba votes, especially since it became evident that a section of the community was unhappy with Siddaramaiah. It is not that the entire community is displeased, but certainly a section of it is,” the source said.

This has become doubly evident, especially since JD(S) leader Vishwanath had approached Eshwarappa in 2017 and asked him to join hands to “defeat Siddaramaiah in 2018 elections”.

Vishwanath had told the media in October last year that Siddaramaiah “had let down the community by not fulfilling promises made”.

“Vishwanath being open about his move has also caused uncertainty among members of the community as they have now begun to question the CM’s work. Now Siddaramaiah is not the only Kuruba leader, he has to fight both Vishwanath and Eshwarappa,” the source added.