Dalits don’t decide who wins in this reserved constituency

In this constituency, which is less than 15 km from Electronics City, it is easier to focus on the pathetic roads, creaky infrastructure, unemployment and failure of the MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) programme — it stares you in the face.

Yet, one can’t help but grapple with the morass of casteism that lurks beneath the surface in this Hindutva bastion, reserved for Scheduled Castes since 1978.

Anekal — where Dalits and Adivasis constitute nearly 30 per cent of the population — presents a classic example of how merely reserving an electoral constituency for Dalits doesn’t necessarily result in their emancipation. (See quotes.)

To this day, they are not allowed entry into some Hindu temples and the houses of the so-called ‘upper castes’. “We [Dalits] don’t enter the local Anjanayaswamy Temple. There will be trouble from the Reddys and Brahmins if we do. We want peace,” said A.Y. Dasrath, a member of Muthanallur Gram Panchayat in the constituency.

In home buying too

“Dalits are rarely allowed to purchase houses in the east and west directions. Their colonies are located either towards the north or the south,” says P. Yashoda, a social activist. “My name was C. Ramu. I changed it to Raavana after my people and I were denied entry into temples and boycotted from social functions,” says another activist.

A. Narayanswamy, who has represented the constituency for 18 years, was made Social Welfare Minister when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.

The irony is hard to miss; there have been at least eight major attacks on Dalits by men from the dominant Reddy community in the last five years. On July 8, 2007, over 200 Reddy men stormed into the house of R. Rajesh (29) after he protested the vandalising of B.R. Ambedkar’s posters. “The moment they entered, they broke all the busts and photo frames of Ambedkar,” says his father Ramchandrappa (54). The police refused to file a case of atrocity and did not deploy sentries in the area. That day, Dalits and their properties were also attacked in the nearby villages of Muthanallur and Chandrapura. Mr. Narayanswamy never visited the area after the attacks, he says.

Mr. Narayanswamy’s assets have, however, grown at a fast clip. He has declared assets worth Rs. 8 crore this year. His assets have been a source of controversy in the past too as reported in The Hindu on July 18, 2012 (Curious turn to Minister’s annual asset declarations).

Communal politics

The region has also been a hotbed for communal politics and there have been six attacks since 2008 on Christians and their institutions. The most recent was reported by The Hindu on February 10, 2012 (Jesuit priests forced to apologise). The history of communalism and casteism in Anekal is joined at the hip. Resentful of the land reforms of the mid-1970s, which put land in the hands of Dalits for the first time, the Reddys, led by Rajanna Reddy, Sunka Reddy, Yanga Reddy and Somashekhara Reddy, took to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the (then) Jan Sangh in a big way to counter the growing influence of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS), says Mr. Raavana.

The dynamics

Sadly, Dalits are divided among “touchable”, “untouchable”, Telugu-speaking, Tamil-speaking, Arivu-speaking and Kannada-speaking. “As a result, the ‘dominant’ castes have always held sway. They decide which Dalit candidate should contest. And while the Dalit vote is scattered, the ‘dominant’ castes tend to vote in blocs,” says land broker A. Prakash.

Some leaders in the RSS such as Rajashekhar Reddy and Nerlur Nagaraj have openly criticised Mr. Narayanswamy for his “high-handedness” and worked against him in the recent urban local body (ULB) elections.

The BJP, which had 15 seats in the Anekal Town Municipal Council, was reduced to nine seats in the recently concluded elections where the Congress and Janata Dal (S) posted major gains.

Congress candidate B. Shivanna and JD(S) nominee M. Keshava will look to exploit these conditions.

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