In Bengaluru Protests Against Shivakumar's Arrest, a Caste Angle

The protests on Wednesday are largely being portrayed as an agitation by the Vokkaliga caste community to which Shivakumar belongs and whom BJP are keen to impress.

New Delhi: A protest against Karnataka Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar’s arrest by the ED by several political organisations has taken off in Bengaluru, with dire promises of holding up traffic in the southern part of the city.

The demonstrations, by Congress, Janata Dal (Secular), the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike and the Vokkaliga Sangha are largely being portrayed as an outburst by the Vokkaliga caste group to which Shivakumar belongs against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s alleged efforts to bring down Vokkaliga leadership in the state.

On Tuesday, calls for a “Raj Bhavan chalo” march on Wednesday, September 11, met with widespread endorsement, also notably from Shivakumar himself who tweeted his thanks for the “massive protests.”

Leaders of several outfits will address the gathering after which they will march towards the Raj Bhavan. At the time of publishing the report, Twitter was awash with photographs of supporters arriving at rally venues. Protesters are scheduled to begin marching from the National College Grounds in Basavanagudi and stop more than five km away at the Freedom Park.

Unconfirmed accounts have pegged the attendance of protesters at 35,000. Police have made elaborate security arrangements and have diverted traffic all along the procession route.

Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao held a press conference, where India Today quoted him as having said that this was an “emotional issue.” Rao reportedly said police were nonetheless compelled to impose conditions on organisers as the procession was to take place soon after a holiday.

The fact that the protest against Shivakumar’s arrest in the money laundering case is being called a “Vokkaliga protest” has earned a degree of criticism from BJP and other commenters who believe caste is being harnessed to shield an economic offender. It is Congress’s erstwhile coalition partner JD(S) which is traditionally considered the party of the Vokkaligas, who dominate southern Karnataka.

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However, Shivakumar has long been a leader of the community and had been one of the most visible faces attempting to salvage the coalition government as the Yediyurappa-led BJP successfully attempted to wrest power from them through July and August, 2019.

Deputy Chief Minister Dr C.N. Ashwath Narayan, who also belongs to the Vokkaliga community and who had urged Wednesday’s protesters not to take the law into their hands, is believed to have been appointed one of three deputies largely as a measure to appease the community and ensure that the BJP can make inroads into it.

The branding of a rally as a caste-propelled one puts a spanner into BJP’s efforts to gain followers within the group. Shivakumar, who has cried vendetta politics by the BJP in his arrest, is now presented an opportunity to display support from a group BJP itself is keen to impress.

Shivakumar, a former Karnataka cabinet minister, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on September 3 and is in the agency’s custody. The ED had in September 2018 registered a money laundering case against Shivakumar, Haumanthaiah, an employee at the Karnataka Bhavan in New Delhi, and others. The criminal case was filed based on an Income Tax department charge sheet filed against Shivakumar and others before a court in Bengaluru for alleged tax evasion and hawala dealings.

(With PTI inputs)