Bengaluru: Not many thought BJP state chief B.S. Yeddyurappa’s meal of hotel-cooked idlis at a dalit’s home in Tumakuru would become a raging controversy a year ahead of the Assembly polls, but it has happened and the reasons aren’t hard to find. Chasing the dalit vote is now a top priority for both the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP, which is making a frenzied bid to return to power in a state where the community is the strongest — 1.08 crore out of a six-crore population.
Congress Lok Sabha leader Mallikarjun Kharge and state unit chief G. Parameshwar have claimed that Mr Yeddyurappa, who belongs to the upper caste Lingayat community, insulted dalits by preferring hotel food to one cooked by dalits at their home. Both leaders know targeting the BJP for its preference for upper castes is the best way to draw dalits closer into the Congress fold.
But the BJP rubbished the allegations, saying the food ran out as Mr Yeddyurappa and his team were at the home of Madhu Kumar in Chitradurga district for breakfast, and so more had to be bought from outside. One D. Venkatesh filed a police complaint against Mr Yeddurappa, accusing him of casteism.
Mr Yeddyurappa too lashed out at the Congress, saying the party was not able to tolerate BJP leaders visiting dalit colonies and having food with residents.
“I visited a dalit colony in Bagalkote district on Monday and had breakfast with them. I have also enquired about the problems they face. My visits to dalit colonies will continue across the state,” he said.
BJP spokesman Suresh Kumar said, “Yeddyurappa and others had breakfast in dalits’ houses in Tumakuru and Chitradurga that was prepared by family members. This was confirmed by the family members. The Congress’ allegation is cheap and nasty.”
Hanumantharayappa, who hosted the breakfast for Mr Yeddyurappa and BJP leaders in Tumakuru, said: “We prepared breakfast for 30 people... After more people arrived, it is true we brought breakfast from outside to serve 300 people. But for 30 leaders, we prepared the food ourselves.”
Former BSP state chief and dalit leader B. Gopal said Mr Yeddyurappa did err by not eating what was there at the dalit’s house. “If he is there to study the plight of dalits, he should eat what’s available. So Congress leaders attacked him, there is nothing wrong in it.”
The BJP definitely doesn’t want a statewide repeat of the disaster in Nanjangud, a reserved constituency, where veteran dalit leader Srinivasprasad was crushed by a Congress leader in the recent bypolls by a huge margin.