Sangolli Rayanna, a 19th-century rebel warrior of Kittur, was captured through treachery and hanged by the British. Today, the legendary Kuruba commander-in-chief of Rani Chennamma has been invoked by the BJP—to help break into the Ahinda vote bank of the ruling Congress and dislodge Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in the 2018 assembly election.
Ahinda—a caste coalition of minorities, backward classes and dalits—has been a decisive force in Karnataka elections. And the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade is the BJP’s ploy to counter Kuruba strongman Siddaramaiah’s Ahinda-centric politics.
Leader of the opposition K.S. Eshwarappa, a Kuruba, is now chanting “Hinda” (Ahinda minus the minorities) to steer backward communities towards the BJP. A daunting task, given that Siddaramaiah has spent the past three years doling out huge grants and rolling out populist schemes aimed at the Ahinda communities.
Siddaramaiah is hailed as the heir to Devaraj Urs’s legacy. Urs, as Congress chief minister, had led a silent social revolution through reforms to help the poor, abolishing bonded labour and manual scavenging, and boosting education and employment among the backward communities by introducing reservation for OBCs in the 1970s.
Siddaramaiah’s loan waivers and Bhagya schemes—such as Anna Bhagya (free rice for families below the poverty line), Ksheera Bhagya (free milk for school children), Shaadi Bhagya (financial assistance for marriage of backward Muslim women) and Krishi Bhagya (funding for farmers to set up irrigation facilities)—have all been aimed at reaching out to the downtrodden.
However, many Congress veterans fear that the aggressive campaign to consolidate the Ahinda base could drive the dominant communities towards the BJP. Also, Siddaramaiah recently faced a massive protest by landless labourers and small farmers as he rode the late Urs's car to Vidhana Soudha to mark the latter's birth anniversary. The protesters decried rhetoric and demanded “real reforms”.
On the other side, even as the BJP is desperate to unite the Hindu votes, Eshwarappa invoking Rayanna is being perceived as a veiled threat to BJP state president and Lingayat strongman B.S. Yeddyurappa. The power tussle between the two leaders from Shimoga is no secret.
The former deputy chief minister’s Hinda campaign is comparable to Siddaramaiah’s experiment with Ahinda in 2007, when he walked out of the Janata Dal (Secular), joined the Congress, and eventually became chief minister. Incidentally, Siddaramaiah’s old friends are now guiding the BJP's Hinda campaign.
The BJP does not want to take any chances. In 2013, dissidence and splinter factions—KJP (led by Yeddyurappa) and BSR Congress (led by B. Sriramulu)—pushed the party to the third position.
The BJP’s central leadership has backed Eshwarappa's Hinda campaign, but reminded its leaders that the target was the Congress. BJP president Amit Shah, who was in Mangaluru for a 'Tiranga Yatra', sent out a stern message by referring to Yeddyurappa as the “former and future chief minister of Karnataka”.
The Congress, meanwhile, is worried about Ahinda groups warming up to the BJP, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a bold political statement by daring cow vigilantes to attack him, and not dalits.
Yuva Ahinda, a new youth forum, is the Congress’s answer to the BJP’s Rayanna brigade. Congress leaders H.M. Revanna, M.D. Lakshminarayana and V.S. Ugrappa floated the forum, with support from litterateurs such as K. Marulasidappa, G.K. Govinda Rao and S.G. Siddaramaiah.
“We will expose the BJP, which is misleading our youths and using them as foot soldiers and cow vigilantes,” says Revanna. Siddaramaiah's media adviser Dinesh Aminmattu says, “Launching Yuva Ahinda is a bid to woo back the dalit and backward class youths. Ahinda groups must ensure that the state is ruled by Ahinda leaders for the next 10 years.”
While the Congress is banking on Ahinda votes, the BJP believes it can count on the influential mutts (including a coalition of about 80 mutts belonging to backward classes), as the previous BJP government had doled out grants worth Rs 400 crore to them.
The numerically strong backward classes have always been a decisive force in state politics, but they failed to breed political leadership, which continues to be dominated by Vokkaligas, Lingayats and Brahmins.
A controversial caste-based survey (yet to be published) hints at dalits (1.03 crore) being the largest community in the state (which has a total population of 6 crore), followed by Muslims (75 lakh). With about 43.5 lakh Kurubas, the Ahinda coalition can prove to be a challenge to the politically strong Lingayats (59 lakh) and Vokkaligas (49 lakh).
The irony is that at a time when dalits have pledged to not dispose of cattle carcass—considered a sign of their socio-cultural subordination—the same group is falling prey to identity politics played out in the Ahinda-versus-Hinda experiment.