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BJP eyes Vokkaliga votes with Kempegowda statue, but here’s why Bengaluru may not owe him origin

Rs 100 cr statue —‘Statue of Prosperity’ — & adjoining theme park add to long list of landmarks named after Kempegowda, in Vokkaliga-dominated city accounting for 28 out of 224 assembly seats

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Bengaluru: Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to reach out to the influential Vokkaliga community in Karnataka Friday, unveiling a 108-foot-statue of Kempegowda, the 16th-century chieftain who laid the foundations of the city that became Bengaluru.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has so far relied heavily on the state’s dominant Lingayat community for votes, is now looking to expand its support base.

“I look forward to being in the vibrant city of Bengaluru tomorrow, 11th November. I am honoured to be getting the opportunity to unveil a statue of Sri Nadaprabhu Kempegowda,” Modi tweeted Thursday.

Few in Karnataka are as eulogised as Kempegowda, who belonged to the Vokkaliga community (traditionally the landed-gentry involved in agriculture) and whose name dons Bengaluru’s airport, railway and bus station, landmarks, installations and localities.

The Rs 100 crore statue, dubbed the ‘Statue of Prosperity’, and adjoining theme park further add to this long list of landmarks named after Kempegowda, in a Vokkaliga-dominated city that accounts for 28 out of the 224 assembly seats.

The unveiling of the statue comes at a time when the Bengaluru city corporation polls continue to be delayed, leaving one of India’s IT-hub with no elected representation since September 2020.

The BJP is keen to tap into the Vokkaliga support enjoyed almost exclusively by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) in recent elections, with a portion of it going to the Congress.

Caste is a very important factor in Karnataka and influences every aspect of social and political life. The Lingayats and Vokkaligas are believed to account for nearly 16 per cent and 14 per cent of the population respectively, even though there is no empirical data to prove this.

The BJP, under former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, has been backed by the Lingayats in elections since 2008, while the Vokkaligas are known to support former PM HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular).

The Congress relies on the support of minorities, backward classes and Dalits.

The BJP is now reaching out to the Vokkaliga community, whose votes are often the deciding factor in elections in several districts of the Old Mysuru region, where the saffron outfit has little or no presence.

The BJP must win in these constituencies in order to get an independent majority in the assembly.

Meanwhile, the Congress’ D.K. Shivakumar of the Congress, also a Vokkaliga, is desperately seeking the community’s support his own bid to outmaneuver Siddaramaiah.

In its two terms in government in the state (2008-13 and since 2019), the BJP was able to name only one Vokkaliga chief minister — D.V. Sadananda Gowda in 2011 —  but has since continued with Lingayat names, including Basavaraj Bommai, who replaced Yediyurappa last year

Coincidentally, 11 November (Friday) is also observed as Kanaka Dasa Jayanthi in Karnataka, to commemorate the life of the 16th-century saint. Kanaka Dasa is revered by all communities in the state, but particularly by the Kuruba community in which he was born. This group has since 2013 at least stood firmly with Siddaramaiah.

“Modi, who belongs to the backward community is offering floral tributes to a saint (Kanaka Dasa) who was a beacon for the whole society. The PM will also shower flowers on Maharshi Valmiki (a poet-saint best known for authoring the Ramayana) (whose statue is) situated adjacent to the statue of Kanaka Dasaru,” Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said in a statement Thursday.

The Valmikis, classified as scheduled tribes in Karnataka, are a powerful community and the state government’s decision in October to increase reservations for scheduled tribes from three per cent to seven per cent, is likely to benefit the BJP, especially with such grand gestures by the Prime Minister.

Also readFrom battling caste to redefining epics, why Kannada poet Kuvempu is relevant even today

Appropriation of Kempegowda’s legacy

Born to Kempa Nanje Gowda in 1513, in a village near modern-day Yelahanka — now on the outskirts of Bengaluru — Kempegowda-I was a chieftain or Palegara under the Vijayanagara kings.

Historians and several documented pieces of evidence indicate that the statue of Kempegowda that the prime minister unveiled barely resembles the actual person who died six centuries ago.

“The basic problem is with the imagery of Kempegowda, as one can see the difference between the original pictures, carvings and the statue that is being unveiled,” claimed a Bengaluru-based political analyst, requesting anonymity.

The statue is an extension of the practice under the BJP to ‘lionize’ such personalities with ferocious masculinity and appropriating his identity with the Hindus rather than only with Vokkaligas, the analyst quotes above added.

ThePrint reached Dr C.N. Ashwath Narayan, minister for higher education and Electronics Information Technology & Biotechnology for comment, but received no response till the time of publication of this report.

The BJP has, meanwhile, started a campaign to collect ‘holy mud’ for the event.

“To mark the occasion sacred soil collected from over 22,000 locations across the state was received and mixed symbolically with the mud beneath one of the four towers of the statue,” Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, Karnataka’s minister for higher education said.

Members of this community have the decisive vote in several constituencies in the Old Mysuru region from where the JD(S) draws almost all its strength.

Origin of Bengaluru

The name Bengaluru appears for the first time in a Ganga inscription dated about 900 AD, according to multiple historians who have documented the life of the 16th-century chieftain.

According to historian T.V. Annaswamy’s book, Bengaluru to Bangalore: Urban history of Bangalore from the pre-historic period to the end of 18th century, even the origin of the word cannot be attributed to Kempegowda.

Multiple authors and historians have pointed out that the term ‘Bendakal uru’ or city of boiled beans, believed to be how the word Bengaluru came about, is not associated with Kempegowda, but with Hosala dynasty king Veera Raya-II, nearly 300 years before Kempegowda’s time.

Maya Jayapal in her book, Bangalore-Roots and Beyond, writes that the name was derived after an old woman serving boiled beans to Veera Ballala Raya-II (1173-1220) when the ruler was lost and hungry after hunting.

The other possible origins of the word Bengaluru are Benda Kada Uru (city of burnt forest), Bengavalaru (town of bodyguards), Bengakalla Uru (town of heated stones), Benge Tree (Raktha Honee in Kannada and Pterocarpus marsupium in Latin), according to multiple historians

“Impressed by its strategic location and commercial importance, Kempegowda decided to shift his capital from Yelahanka to Bengaluru. Accordingly, he obtained the permission of Achyuta Devaraya (king of Vijayanagara empire between1530-1542) to shift his capital and erect a mud fort at Bengaluru,” Annaswammy writes in Bengaluru to Bangalore: Urban history of Bangalore from the pre-historic period to the end of 18th century.

Bengaluru was already a well-protected settlement and commercial centre along the southern roads. But Kempegowda is credited by historians with increasing its importance, creating caste-wise trading localities, stationing a garrison, build temples, lakes and ‘Kalyanis’ (tanks) and administering the region with great skill and acumen which would eventually lay the foundations for Bangalore city in 1532.

Just when the city was growing in importance, Kempegowda established an independent mint and started circulating his own currency, Virabhadra Varaha, with the image of his family deity, which was seen as him exceeding his authority and igniting dormant fears within the Vijayanagara Kings of chieftains going rogue and seeking independence.

He was imprisoned for five years and was released on payment of a huge sum and Yelahankanadu was restored to him.

However, multiple accounts by other historians, including the Yelahanka Naraprabhugala Shasana Samputa by the Bangalore university, have questioned these claims.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also readWho is Satish Jarkiholi, Karnataka Congress leader under fire for saying ‘Hindu’ has ‘dirty’ meaning


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