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Shri Devaraj Ars, Social Justice and the Subjectivity formation in Karnataka

The Post-Independent Karnataka has seen many Chief Ministers. But, the enigma of D.
Devaraj Ars is that it still lingers on across Karnataka! Thus, on 20th August 2015 was declared
as the beginning of the yearlong centenary celebrations of Devaraj Ars across Karnataka by the
present Congress Government in the state. Given this context, the present essay tries to
understand what made Devarja Ars as a Jana Nayak in Karnataka? This may be an absurd
proposition to postulate aloud as there is the oft-quoted statement that "Politics is the last resort
for the scoundrels".
But, the above quote proved wrong in the case of Devaraj Ars as he had won the elections
consecutively for a span of 28 years. In these long years of his political career he, along with the
people of Karnataka grew towards the ideals of cultural democracy with the reality of the
ruggedness of rurality. This must have given him the much needed simplicity of purpose to
plunge into the microscopic communities that were living in the periphery and led them to the
centre stage of politics to destine their future as true citizens! This challenged the given ethos of
the dominant communities caste - ridden politics (the Brahmins, the Vokkaligas and the
Lingayats). Given his background of backward caste, this was an impossible task to achieve. But,
the Hindu Caste society that patronized the dominant castes hold on the majority lower castes,
saw the rise of the non-Brahmin movement that slowly mobilized force against the hegemonic
minority caste groups.1 Moreover, the socio-economic and political contexts in Karnataka were
fast changing in the rural life. As Scarlet Epstein write, the changes resulting from irrigation
strengthened the ties between Peasant castes on the one hand and their landless Functionary caste
and Scheduled Caste clients on the other. It there by reinforced the traditional intra-village social
system. At the same time external forces were trying to break these hereditary dependencies.
Indias independence in 1947 had set in motion a process of radical socio-political changes
aiming at transforming Indias hierarchical caste societies, which emphasised status ascription
into egalitarian democratic social systems with universal adult franchise. For instance, legislation
introduced democratically elected village panchayats with reserved seats for scheduled castes. It
thereby attacked the traditional hereditary system that access to irrigation.2 It is this complex
ethos that shaped Devaraj Ars self and character.
Let us have a peep into that character molding that give us a subtle grasp of things to
follow there was an election for the Prajprathinidhi Sabha of the Princely State of Mysore in
1

The non-Brahmin movement was the outcome of Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu. Institutions like the Justice
party in Madras nurtured individual like Pariyar Ramaswamy who spearheaded the non-Brahmin movement. This
had important repercussions in the Princely state of Mysore. After the demise of Tippu in Mysore, the British who
took direct control of the Mysore state appointed their own commissioners in Mysore. Taking advantage of this, the
Iyyangar Brahmins who came from Madras at that time took to important positions in the newly emergent urban
centers. When the Wodeyars bargained with the British got back their royal powers. In order satisfy the emergent
OBC groups, the Wodeyars did patronize the non-Brahmin groups. Taking advantage of this, the non-Brahmins
started their struggle for equal representation in the govt. But this move was slowly withered away as they entered
into the important bureaucratic positions. But, in TN the Non-Brahmin movement became cultural phenomena to
over throw the Brahmin hegemony.
2
T. Scarlet Epstein, A P Suryanarayana, T. Thimmegowda, 1999, Village Voices: Forty Years of Rural
transformation in South India, Sage Publications, new Delhi, p.104

1946. In the forefront the Congress party decided to contest in all the seats across the state. When
it came to the Hunsur constituency to contest the name of D. Devaraj Ars came to the forefront
from the Congress party. Through one lawyer called Srinivas Iyyengar Devaraj Ars was
contacted to contest the election. The immediate response was I am person who not even have
the deposit money to contest the election. Do choose somebody else. Hearing this, Mr. Sahukar
Chennaiah of the Congress party rushed to Hunsur and assured Devaraj Ars of all support and
urged him not to be disheartened. Along with this, Ars follwers too went out to people to collect
funds for Ars election. Thus, as expected youthful Ars won the election. It is said that this made
very little change with his daily routine as a farmer at Kallahalli. Over the years, this
disinterestedness must have been the motif of his electoral politics in the modern democratic
Karnataka. Thus, he became the Chief Minister of Karnataka twice 20th March 19772 and 31st
December 1977.
Some of the Landmark decisions that made him as the real steward of much needed
social reforms in the state:
1. Abolition of Bonded Labour and Carrying of night soil that had belittled the Dalits in the
state. This became exemplary Act to adopt by the central govt. later.
2. Land reforms Act that guaranteed land to the tiller and assured a life of dignity to the small
farmers in the state.
3. The initiation of Kali River project for irrigation
4. Establishment and maintaenance of hotels for the Backward Caste/Class and minority
communities across Karnataka that paved the way for the grassroots youth to progress in
education.
5. Allocation of stipend funds for the 16000 add unemployed members of the minority sections
in the state.
6. The initial plans for an Electronic City at Bengaluru were drawn during his Chief
Ministership. Although there was blatant criticism and opposition he went ahead and
approved of the plans and today we are reaping its fruits in the state, nation and at the global
level.
7. Establishment of Karnataka Public Service Commission to look into appointments of Class A
and B positions for the efficient running of the administration of the govt. Apart from this,
Devaraj Ars also constituted District committees to appoint for the class C and D posts in the
district administration. The structure of this committee consisting of the local elected
representatives, the members of the local congress party belonging to backward groups,
members belonging to minority groups and Dalits. Though the objectives of this committee
was not very well articulated yet, it raised the aspirations that was necessitated for the 70s
political upheavals in the state. At one stroke this opened up the doors for different strategies
among the aspirants to join the government service. Though this was alleged as the breeding
grounds for corruption, yet this step created much needed political awareness among the
masses. Before these committees were resolved at least three rounds of appoints were done.

i. Finally, the long lasting social Engineering was effected by D. Devaraj Ars was the
appointment of Havanur Committee to decide the backwardness of the people in
Karnataka, in 1972. It was the first Backward Class Commission that really set the tolls
to determine the socio-economic backwardness of the people in the state. Mr. Havanur
was hailed from the most backward caste community called Beda. In the beginning,
even after four months of assuming office of chairmanship of the committee, he was
welcomed by the non-cooperation of the govt. officers. Even the media mocked at the
appointment of L.G. Havanur. Finally, to tackle this apathy, the Govt. issued an order to
the Backward Classes Committee as the status of Justice Committee. The Commission
submitted its report in 1975. According to the analysis the backward classes was decided
based on the performance of SSLC examination and thus grouped into three categories as
backward communities, backward castes and backward tribes except Dombars and
Voddars, and those who are Nomadic and De-notified Tribes.
The above only to note that the concept of Social Justice was finally found its roots in
Karnataka due to the pioneering efforts of D. Devaraj Ars. Its this that gave voice to the
voiceless! Later, these groups launched the Dalit Sangarsha Samjthi to announce the era of
Cultural Revolution in the state.
In order to understand the impacts of the above measures let us look into take the
empirical data taken in different periods:
Table 1: Recruitment to Public Service in 1977 and 1983-84
Religion/Caste
Percentage of Total Number of Percentage to the Population of
new Recruits, excluding Class IV the State as per Survey of 1984
Brahmins
Dominant Castes
Lingayats
Vokkaligas

12.41

3.81

13.86
11.04

16.92
11.68

Other Backward Classes

Kurubas
Bedas
Besthas
Idigas
Dalits
Scheduled Tribes
Muslims
Christians

3.22
0.73
0.87
0.84
18.91
2.73
6.21
2.04

6.92
2.75
2.80
2.54
15.86
2.82
10.97
1.89

Source: Report of the Second Backward Classes Commission, Government of Karnataka,


Bangalore, 1986

The above table self-explanatory of the actual figures of representation in the govt.
services. The measures that were implemented bthe major shiy Devaraj Ars bears fruit in the data
of 1983-84 data. But, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas have been much more consolidated. The
other major advancement could be seen is the progress of the Kurubas, Dalits and Muslims. The

rest too have made progress but not enough. The only surprise is that Christian community has
reversed its progress rather backwards! It needs further investigation.
But, today i.e. 2015-16 data may be far more important to assess in the face of neo-liberal
market that has forced the govt. to change its policies in favour of the private capital. There is a
data of the Public Banks recruitments in Karnataka. Out of the 438 general managers about 410
(94%) is recruited from GM category. And the rest is from OBC, SC and ST category. This only
signifies the status of affairs that is glaring at us. Whither Social Justice of the much promised
by Devaraj Ars? Is this the way to celebrate the centenary year of Devaraj Ars? The oft quoted
maxim then turns as Politics is the last resort of the scoundrel called Neo-Liberals!

Dr. Dominic. D
Professor, Dept. of Kannada
Bangalore University PG Centre, Kolar.