Bangalore, July 9 (IANS) Hundreds of Vokkaligas, including lawmakers and cadres across various parties, Monday protested against the move of Karnataka's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to oust D.V.Sadananda Gowda as chief minister, allegedly on caste lines.
Heads of social and religious organisations belonging to the Vokkaliga community joined rallies and sit-in demonstrations across Bangalore, Mandya and Mysore, criticising the BJP for playing caste politics and succumbing to the pressures of the rival Lingayat community to replace Gowda with state Rural Development Minister Jagadish Shettar as its third chief minister in the state.
"It is despicable that the BJP had stooped so low to remove Gowda solely on caste considerations and replace him with Shettar (a Lingayat) for vote bank politics. It is unfortunate Gowda is paying heavy price for being a Vokkaliga and providing a corruption-free government during the past 10 months," Karnataka Rakshna Vedike (protection forum) president Narayana Gowda told reporters in Bangalore.
Bowing to the mounting pressure of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and his supporters for a change in the party leadership, the BJP high command Sunday decided to replace Gowda with Shettar with an eye on the next state legislative assembly elections in May 2013.
Gowda became the ruling party second chief minister August 4, 2011 after scam-hit Yeddyurappa resigned July 31 following his indictment by then Karnataka Lokayukta (ombudsman) Justice (retired) N. Santosh Hegde on bribery charge in the multi-crore mining scam that rocked the state.
Though Lingayats are a dominant community in the state constituting around 17 percent of the state's 65 million people, Vokkaligas are also an equally powerful caste group accounting for 16 percent of the population.
"The BJP is daydreaming that it will return to power after the next assembly poll by having a Lingayat leader as chief minister. By playing the community card, its leaders are polarising the people on caste lines. The electorate will teach them a fitting lesson at the hustings, the Vedike president said.
Raising slogans against the BJP, the protesters also burnt effigies of Yeddyurappa and Shettar for ousting Gowda, who was elected by the party's lawmakers in August last year through a ballot.
The heads of the Vokkaliga organisations also appealed to the BJP ministers and legislators belonging to the powerful community to resign from their posts in protest against the unceremonious removal of Gowda.
"We will stage protests in front of the Vokkaliga ministers and lawmakers' houses if they do not resign in support of our cause and express solidarity with Gowda, who has been made a scapegoat in the vexed caste politics of the BJP," asserted Narayana Gowda.
In a related development, former prime minister and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) president H.D. Deve Gowda refuted charges that he had influenced Sadananda Gowda in taking important executive decisions during his 10-month tenure.
"It is over seven months since I last met him (the chief minister). I have nothing to do with him or his administration. Those who accuse me of guiding Sadananda Gowda in taking decisions favourable to me, my family or my party (JDS), made similar allegations when N. Dharma Singh (of the Congress) was the chief minister in 2004-06," Deve Gowda told reporters here.
Dharma Singh headed the first Congress-JDS coalition government in the state after the 2004 assembly elections as neither had majority to form a single party government.