Dalit heat threatens to burn Congress

The choice of Siddaramaiah as CM over Dalit leader Mallikarjuna Kharge resulted in widespread protests by activists and leaders of the Chalavadi Mahasabha.

Published: 19th May 2013 09:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2013 09:47 AM   |  A+A-

A backlash was expected in Karnataka, but the severity took everyone by surprise. The choice of Siddaramaiah as chief minister over Dalit leader Mallikarjuna Kharge resulted in widespread protests by activists and leaders of the Chalavadi Mahasabha, the sub-community Kharge belongs to.

Taken aback and wary of a similar Dalit uprising in the run-up to the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked Kharge to convince his community about the party’s commitment to their welfare. She held one-on-one talks with Kharge for over 40 minutes early this week in an effort to resolve the crisis. Sonia is said to have discussed confidence-building measures with Kharge, but reportedly expressed her displeasure at the situation. AICC general secretary Oscar Fernandes and Sonia’s political secretary Ahmad Patel also held talks with Kharge and discussed accommodating more Dalits in the new government.

Soon after his meeting with Sonia, Kharge came out with a statement appealing to his followers to stop the agitation. However, he has not been successful so far in dousing the fire.

The Dalit anger has been building for a while now. The Community felt let down when the high command asked Kharge to step down as Opposition leader and contest Lok Sabha elections from Gulbarga to accommodate Siddaramaiah. Later Kharge was made Union Labour Minister. Then they were hoping that a Dalit will be made the chief minister after the party’s thumping victory early this month. There was a reason to it since the party was led by another suave Dalit leader Dr G Parmeshwara. But his shocking defeat catapulted Kharge into the race for the chief minister’s chair.

What led to unrest among the Dalits is the way in which Siddaramaiah was elected chief minister. The party after adopting a democratic process by making all elected MLAs vote for their choice of chief minister didn’t disclose the result.

Dalits, particularly the ‘Chalavadi’ community, a sub sect to which Kharge and Parameshwar belongs, came out in public to express their protest by burning effigies of party leaders, held rallies, observed bandhs and even attacked Congress offices in places like Chamrajnagar and Gulbarga. They have also threatened to work against the Congress candidate in Periyapatna Assembly Constituency election scheduled to take place on May 24. The election was postponed following the death of BJP candidate Sannamoge Gowda.

Former minister and JD(U) leader B Somashekar , a prominent Dalit leader, also called upon them to teach the Congress a lesson by defeating its candidates in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Siddaramaiah also attempted to soothe the protestors by stating, “I am myself a Dalit.” But it didn’t cut ice.

Agitating leaders have suggested the creation of the deputy CM’s post to accommodate a Dalit leader in a bid to resolve the crisis. Siddaramaiah and the high command rejected this proposal.


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