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Dalit Diplomacy: BJP Throws a Lunch Party, Congress Returns With Cabinet Berth

All this ownership of Dalit welfare stems from the yet-to-be-officially released caste survey, which hints at a big rise in Dalit population in Karnataka.

Deepa Balakrishnan | CNN-News18deepab18

Updated:August 30, 2017, 7:34 PM IST
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Dalit Diplomacy: BJP Throws a Lunch Party, Congress Returns With Cabinet Berth
BJP Karnataka president B S Yeddyurappa hosted a grand feast or ‘habbada-oota’ for Dalit families at his home in Bengaluru on Friday. (Photo: News18)
Bengaluru: If the way to a voter’s heart is through his stomach, then Siddaramaiah’s Indira canteens and Yeddyurappa’s feast for a hundred Dalits should probably keep them in the mix when the battle for the ballot begins.

Two weeks after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah launched ‘Indira canteens’ along the lines of the Amma canteens in Tamil Nadu for highly-subsidised food, BJP Karnataka president B S Yeddyurappa hosted a grand feast or ‘habbada-oota’ for Dalit families at his home in Bengaluru.

All 33 families that had hosted him for breakfast when he was on a state-wide tour were invited to Yeddyurappa’s home for a luncheon meeting.

On the platter was a traditional three-course meal served on a banana leaf, complete with three desserts and, of course, the political talk. Yeddyurappa’s daughter Padmavathi and sons Vijayendra and Raghavendra personally oversaw food and transport arrangements for the guests.

“The Congress criticised me for having visited a Dalit home every day for breakfast. I didn’t go there just to eat, I went to see the real state in which our poor are living. I went to see for myself what needs to be done about each mohalla,” said Yeddyurappa.

Over the last two months, Yeddyurappa had gone on a tour of different districts where his day started with ‘breakfast at a Dalit home’. The tour had come under criticism as Yeddyurappa was accused of arranging hotel food at some of the homes, raising questions on whether he was actually eating a Dalit’s home-cooked food.

Siddaramaiah had slammed the BJP leaders for these ‘photo-op’ tours as pre-poll stunts. “If you really care about Dalits, you should have brought in pro-Dalit programmes when in power. And inter-marry – get your children married to grooms and brides from Dalit homes,” the CM had taunted.

Along with the 100 Dalits at his home, Yeddyurappa had also brought in a religious seer – Madara Chennaya Swami – to talk about harassment of Dalits and how to empower the community.

BJP’s strongest Dalit leader Govind Karjol, who presided over the feast, was also quick to taunt the Congress for its ‘inter-marriage’ advice.

“They (Congress) keep saying, get your children married to Dalits. As of now, all of Yeddyurappa’s children are married and can’t marry a second time. There is one eligible bachelor in the Congress – the great-grandson of Pandit Nehru, Rahul Gandhi. Why don’t they find him a bride in either (Mallikarjun) Kharge’s family or (state Congress president) Parameshwara’s family?” Karjol asked.

All this ownership of Dalit welfare stems from the yet-to-be-officially released caste survey, which hints at a big rise in Dalit population in Karnataka. Almost a quarter of the State’s people are Dalits, and with ten months to go for elections, parties are vying with each other on who has done more for the community.

Ever since the CM let on, perhaps without realising, at a public function that Dalits constitute 24.1 per cent of the population, all parties have been on an overdrive with Dalit appeasement measures.

The State Cabinet, which has three Dalits so far, is likely to see a fourth addition soon. H Anjaneya, HC Mahadevappa and Priyank Kharge are already Ministers, but the exit of G Parameshwara (who was the Home Minister) so that he would continue to be party president, will be filled with another Dalit by the end of this week.

The CM, also unwilling to give Yeddyurappa the advantage of a ‘feast,’ called the gesture a political gimmick. “Why didn’t he call Dalits home when he was in power? Why didn’t he frame any programmes for their welfare, why didn’t he visit their homes and their villages?” he asked, a day after Yeddyurappa’s feast.

Of course, come manifesto time, there will be much more than just a free meal for the voter.
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