Bengaluru, Apr 9: As Vokkaligas (15 per cent of the population) are considered to be the second politically significant major community of Karnataka after Lingayats (17 per cent), the focus is on how whether there would be a shift in their voting stance in the May 10 assembly election as the ruling BJP has aggressively tried to woo them.
One can gauge the role Vokkaligas play in Karnataka politics from the fact that it has given seven Chief Ministers to Karnataka since independence and a PM.
As a retired IAS officer puts it, this is a community which has rich political awareness. “Of the 17 Chief Ministers Karnataka had, seven were from the Vokkaliga community. K Chengalaraya Reddy, Kengal Hanumanthaiah and Kadidal Manjappa, the first three chief ministers of the state, were from the Vokkaliga Community,” the officer said.
He added that H D Deve Gowda, a Vokkaliga, became the first person from Karnataka to occupy the post of Prime Minister.
The Old Mysuru region, the community's stronghold, comprises Ramanagara, Mandya, Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, Kodagu, Kolar, Tumakuru and Hassan districts. The region has 58 assembly constituencies, which is more than one-fourth of the total number of seats in the 224-member House.
JD(S) represented 24 seats, Congress 18 and BJP 15 in this region in the current assembly. This apart, the community is present in sizeable numbers in Bengaluru Urban district comprising 28 constituencies, Bengaluru Rural district (four constituencies), and Chikkaballapura (eight constituencies).
A political activist Raje Gowda claimed that Vokkaligas dominate in all the 27 out of 28 assembly constituencies of Bengaluru urban district barring Anekal. In the Bengaluru rural district and Chikkaballapura, they hold sway, he added.
“We are scattered ideologically and do not vote en masse like certain other communities. This shows we are liberal in choosing our leaders, which can be seen either as our weakness or our strength,” Raje Gowda quipped.
H D Deve Gowda-headed JD (S) counts the Vokkaligas as its main vote base in the Old Mysuru region, where it's main fight is with the Congress though of late the BJP has been able to make some inroads.
Apparently, seeking to expand its base among this community, the BJP government came up with its 'reservation engineering' making the 2B category of four per cent reservation, exclusively for 'other backward Muslims' redundant and distributed the two per cent equally among Lingayats and Vokkaligas. With this, reservation for Vokkaligas has gone up from four per cent to six per cent.
The move pleased the revered seer of Vokkaliga community, AdiChunchanagiri Math pontiff Swami Nirmalanandanatha, who praised the BJP government.
As part of its Vokkaliga "appeasement" exercise, the BJP built a 108-ft tall Nada Prabhu Kempe Gowda's statue, the founder of Bengaluru and 16th century chieftain of Vijayanagara dynasty, near the Bengaluru International Airport.
Recently, Karnataka Minister Munirathna, who is also a filmmaker, came up with a plan to make a movie 'Uri Gowda-Nanje Gowda' based on a fake story. The fake story is based on a belief among a section of people that there were two Vokkaliga chieftains in erstwhile Mysuru kingdom by name Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda. It was not the colonial British army but these two chieftains who killed the 18th century Mysuru ruler Tipu Sultan, a claim supported by even some BJP Ministers.
However, Munirathna dropped the plan after Swami Nirmalanandanatha asked him not to proceed with the project saying that there was no historical basis behind the story and it would only create confusion among people.
A Vokkaliga Sangha office-bearer said requesting anonymity that had the movie been made, it would have helped the BJP to garner more votes. “The 'Uri Gowda Nanje Gowda' project might have been dumped, but it is still discussed among Vokkaligas. Further, the increase in reservation will also have a bearing on the election, it seems,” he said.