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Now AP, Karnataka, Telangana usher in world of (upper) caste politics, privilege the Brahmins

Jagan Reddy & KCR’s govts know that while Brahmins are electorally insignificant, they can influence others. Meanwhile, BJP in Karnataka is fighting the ‘taken for granted’ tag.

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Bengaluru/Hyderabad: Three state governments in south India, representing both sides of the Hindutva divide, have strengthened their outreach programmes for Brahmins, in order to remain politically relevant among the community and counter opposition parties’ attempts to woo them.

In the Telugu-speaking non-BJP-ruled states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and in BJP-ruled Karnataka, the Brahmin population is negligible and their mandate politically insignificant. But none of these states’ governments have taken their eyes off this influential community, frequently unveiling schemes to incentivise education and employment, or to perpetuate ‘their’ Vedic culture.

Of course, the benefactors of these initiatives must show proof of caste — that they are Brahmins by birth — as most of them are from the economically weaker sections.

In Andhra, the Brahmins have always thrown in their lot with the Reddy community since a fight with the erstwhile Chandrababu Naidu government. But are they happy with Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, particularly when the opposition BJP tomtoms itself to be the “protector of Hindu dharma?”

Meanwhile, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao publicly lives the life of a ‘devout Hindu’. And while there’s hardly any representation of Brahmins in his government, he continues to put them on a pedestal — now and then, he gets vocal in his demand for a Bharat Ratna for former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who hailed from the community.

In the case of Karnataka, the BJP’s central leadership is being careful with the community, fearing that Brahmins will perceive “they are being taken for granted”.

Intellectuals, however, point out it is farcical to base policy outreach on the feudal concept that Brahmins are powerful.

The Andhra government’s Vedic education scheme for Brahmins has come in for particular criticism. Political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote that the state cannot provide support to a profession whose eligibility is determined by birth. If Vedic studies are good for Brahmins, they should be good for all, he argued.

Also read: Chhattisgarh CM’s father Nand Kumar Baghel arrested over remarks against Brahmins

‘Brilliant, big thinkers’ in Andhra, Telangana

Both the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments have designated Brahmin welfare departments — set up in 2014 and 2017 respectively — and portals, which describe the community as ‘brilliant’ and ‘big’ thinkers.

The Telangana Brahmin Samkshema Parishad — the government body working for the upliftment of the community — says on its website that BRAHMIN stands for “Broad and Brilliant in Thinking; Righteous and Religious in Livelihood, Adroit and Adventurous in Personality, Honesty and Humanity in Quality, Modesty and Morality in Character, Innovation and Industry in Performance and Nobility and Novelty in approach”.

Andhra’s site defines the community as “Big Thinking, Resource Leveraging, Attitude (positive), Hard Work, Modesty, Integrity and Neo Thinking”.

Both state governments offer financial assistance for higher education, entrepreneurship, skill development, coaching for competitive exams — primarily for the economically weaker groups within the community.

Such schemes, however, are not exclusive to the Brahmin community in the states. There are designated departments working for backward communities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, offering almost similar financial assistance to promote empowerment.

There is not a single Brahmin minister in KCR’s cabinet, nor in Jagan’s, except Deputy Speaker Kona Raghupathi. There are only a handful of Brahmin legislators in both states, which reflects the fact that Telangana has less than 3 per cent Brahmin voters while Andhra has 5 per cent. But Brahmins are important to both the CMs, say analysts.

There are also financial assistance schemes to promote ‘Vedic culture’ and ‘Vedic education’ in the community. The Telangana Brahmin Parishad offers a scheme named ‘Vedahitha — Vedic Students’, which pays each Brahmin student a sustenance grant of Rs 3 lakh after the successful competition of ‘Smarta’ studies and Rs 5 lakh after finishing ‘Agama, Kramantha and Ganantha’ studies.

A similar scheme in Andhra pays as high as Rs 36,000 annually for a period of six years.

In Telangana, the government bears 75 per cent cost of construction of ‘Brahmin Sadans’ at district and mandal levels under its ‘Brahmin Sadan Scheme’.

Andhra’s ‘Vasishta Scheme’ provides coaching for competitive exams such as the civil services, paying candidates’ boarding and lodging charges.

One of the eligibility criteria for all these schemes is that the beneficiary and the parents should be Brahmins.

From 2015 to 2019, mostly under Chandrababu Naidu, Andhra spent Rs 216 crore on welfare schemes for the community.

The Andhra government also offers financial assistance for funeral expenses of a deceased from a Brahmin family, if the family cannot afford it.

Political analyst Telakapalli Ravi told ThePrint: “Considering our society, Brahmins still play a major role in public opinion. They hold influential positions. Though their economic and political power may not be much, several government advisers belong to the community, and there are bureaucrats in top positions.”

Ravi added that chief priest of the famous Tirumala Temple, A.V. Ramana Deekshitulu, had a certain amount of influence in former CM Chandrababu Naidu’s government.

But that does not mean there are no poor Brahmins, he pointed out.

In Telangana, KCR’s most recent sop to Brahmins was the year-long Narasimha Rao birth centenary celebrations he announced in 2020. A statue of the former PM was erected in Hyderabad in June, which the CM himself inaugurated. The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi, in the graduates MLC polls, named his granddaughter a candidate, and she ended up winning.

“KCR does not give the community much power but keeps them on a pedestal, conveys that he is respecting them,” Ravi said.

Prof. Kodandaram Reddy, founder of political party Telangana Jana Samithi, said the community is present mostly in urban pockets.

Brahmin voters dominates 12 urban assembly constituencies in the state out of the total 119, according to Telangana BJP leader Ramchander Rao.

Compared to Andhra Pradesh, the Brahmin community in Telangana was not initially influential due to the zamindar (landlord) culture and the Nizam rule. But things changed and certain sub-castes from the Brahmin community such as ‘Karnam’ took over maintaining village records and looked after revenue, Kodandaram Reddy said.

Also read: Brahmins in focus, Mayawati begins UP poll campaign amid Sanskrit mantras, Jai Shri Ram chants

‘We don’t take you for granted’: BJP to Karnataka Brahmins

To offset displeasure among Brahmins, the ruling BJP in Karnataka has set up a board to look into their affairs, particularly those who are poor.

Brahmins make up four per cent of the total population in the state.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai Monday released Rs 13.77 crore through Direct Benefit Transfer to 9,206 students from the Brahmin community belonging to economically weaker sections.

The scheme, Saandeepani Shishya Vethana, is the latest offering from the Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board (KSBDB), which was mooted by the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led JD(S)-Congress coalition government in 2018, and became functional under BJP’s B.S. Yediyurappa in 2020.

In the run-up to the next assembly elections, the BJP wants the KSBDB to address any complaints the community might have, as the party prepares for another Hindutva poll pitch. With almost all members of the board from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate organisations, the board is very important in the BJP’s outreach programme.

KSBDB chief H.S. Sachidananda Murthy is a BJP man who has held various positions in the last four decades, including that of Bengaluru district president. He has also been a member of the RSS since childhood. The board’s website states in his profile: “He has led the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi Movement and was in-charge of the Rath Yatra. He has actively participated in NityapoojeRamajyothiKar Seva in Ayodhya and Ekatha Yatra.” The site also calls him an “RSS foot-soldier dedicating 38 years as a karyakarta”.

The board’s directors include four officers of the state government — additional chief secretary, revenue department (Muzarai), commissioner for religious and charitable endowments, joint secretary in the revenue department (Muzarai), and assistant to commissioner for religious & charitable endowments. All four officers were nominated.

The other 19 members, from astrologers to social workers, are all members of the BJP, Vishva Hindu Parishad and Brahmana Mahasabha.

Sachidananda Murthy told ThePrint: “I started from scratch after I took charge. We have come up with 13 schemes so far, of which six have been approved.”

He added the first challenge for the board would be to issue caste and income certificates to Brahmins from the economically weaker sections, since that was the basic requirement to avail the schemes.

Karnataka’s schemes

Under the Chanakya administrative training scheme, the KSBDB has sent 161 UPSC aspirants from the Brahmin community for training to the Sankalp Institute in New Delhi.

To identify and incentivise meritorious and talented Brahmin students and achievers, the board has set up the Vishwamitra Prathiba Puraskar. Sachidananda Murthy said 180 students in each district have received prize money and certificates under the scheme.

To encourage ritual worship like evening sandhyavandam among youngsters, the board held a 15-day camp earlier this year at 85 centres across the state. Sachidananda Murthy said: “We paid Rs 500 to each student and Rs 5,000 to each teacher.”

The board is now preparing to pay Rs 97 lakh in fees to 153 poor Brahmin MBBS students, and has tied up with Canara Bank to provide loans between Rs 20,000 and Rs 1 lakh under an entrepreneurship programme.

Sachidananda Murthy added: “Under the Annadana scheme, we offer a 40 per cent subsidy to Brahmin farmers who have less than five acres of land to buy farming equipment. The government gives another 40 per cent subsidy already. So, the beneficiaries need only pay 20 per cent of total equipment cost.”

He added that the board has sought an additional Rs 50 crore funds to launch ‘Arundathi’ and ‘Maitri’ schemes. The former will give Rs 25,000 to poor Brahmin brides, while the latter provides a Rs 3 lakh bond to brides marrying poor Brahmin priests, cooks and temple helpers. The ‘Maitri’ scheme recently landed in a controversy for encouraging same-caste marriages.

The board also hopes to get the government’s permission to conduct its own community census. “We have already begun the process of collecting details of Brahmins, their economic condition, sub-castes and profession in a few talukas,” Sachidananda Murthy said.

Is the ‘development board culture’ new to Karnataka?

Various political parties have turned to caste development boards to offset displeasure among voters.

In Karnataka’s 2021-22 budget, Rs 500 crore was allocated for 16 caste welfare boards, excluding the Rs 500 crore to set up a new board for Veerashiva-Lingayats (16 per cent of the population) and another Rs 500 crore for the Vokkaligas (11 per cent). The Brahmin development board too received Rs 50 crore.

The Brahmin board, however, is relatively new. Sachidananda Murthy said: “By setting up this board, the BJP government in Karnataka has created history.”

The Brahmins were one of the three major communities not covered under any reservation scheme in the state, until the Union government announced 10 per cent reservation for upper castes/communities under the EWS quota in 2019. The reservation was approved for implementation in Karnataka as Yediyurappa’s parting gift in his last cabinet meeting as chief minister in July this year.

Sachidananda Murthy said: “By our estimate, there are about 40 lakh to 42 lakh Brahmins. We are the deciding factor in about 21 of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka.”

State BJP general secretary N. Ravi Kumar said: “It is not just Brahmins; the BJP has set up welfare boards for Veerashaiva-Lingayats, Kadu Golla community, even a Maratha development board. Brahmins may be only 4 per cent of the population, but combined with our other core vote base like OBCs, Lingayats and Vokkaligas, they add strength to the party.”

Kumar denied the party was giving preferential treatment to one community and insisted other boards had been set up too.

BJP national spokesperson Malavika Avinash said: “The idea is to help the poor irrespective of their social backwardness or forwardness. The BJP understands that the poor within the Brahmin community too need to be helped.”

The BJP is expected to make Hindutva a key poll pitch when elections roll around, and Brahmins are expected to play a vital role. The BJP has traditionally held special gatherings at temples for bhajan groups, hari kathas, traditional luncheons, community prayers etc. during election campaigns. With the fillip given to poor priests via the board, the party looks to further strengthen its outreach.

Sachidananda Murthy concluded: “Brahmins have always supported the BJP and its ideology of Hindutva. We, as Brahmins, guard Hindutva and we believe in taking everyone along. We will stand by the party on this journey.”

‘Secularism, social justice have become a farce’

Political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta said in his Indian Express column that secularism and social justice have become “farcical ideas” in these states. He opined that politics and public policy were being reduced to “jati-based” mobilisation in the most absurd way.

“Can you think of anything more grotesque than the idea that in the 21st century the state provides support to a profession whose eligibility is determined by birth? If Vedic education is unalloyed good, why should it not be open to all, subject to conduct rules? How can the state discriminate and confine it to Brahmins identified by birth? This cannot pass any constitutional smell test,” he wrote.

“…this is exactly the perversion of social justice discourse that was set in motion post-Mandal where the question of deeply entrenched historical discrimination was confused with backwardness and poverty in general,” Mehta added.

Other analysts say the state governments continue to keep Brahmins in good humour because of their ‘reverential position’ in society, despite the negligible vote bank.

Independent activist Sky Baba said: “Decades-old feudal systems believed if Brahmins were in an authoritative position, everything would automatically be in place. These governments are still following that sentiment.”

In Karnataka, however, political observers believe that the BJP is taking a risk with its Brahmin appeasement. Writer and professor Chandan Gowda said: “The Brahmin community has been able to get work done by the government through various groups, sanghasmutts, even before the establishment of the board. The BJP may have angered other communities with the Brahmin board. But if they are okay with it, then it is a gamble that may pay off well.”

Also read: ‘Who will you oppress?’ — how Twitter reacted to island for all the world’s Brahmins


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