Neena Gopal is Resident Editor, Deccan Chronicle, Bengaluru

State of play: Want to know truth? Mr Shah, take city cab

Published Aug 13, 2017, 4:53 am IST
Updated Aug 13, 2017, 4:53 am IST
The clamour for a religion tag does not come from the poor or the deprived, who must put food on the table or perish.
Amit Shah
 Amit Shah

Sometimes it’s a blessing not to have a car and a driver. The protective cocoon between you and the world is ripped open, exposing you to the real world, the garbage-strewn, broken, uneven pavements, that you stumble on while navigating,  one eye on the app for nearest available cabs, the other on the city's crazy traffic.

The plus? Spoken Kannada shows a tiny, teeny improvement. You go from mangled phrases to sentences, as you master the art of directing, the Class X pass from Haliyal or Bantwal or Hassan or wherever, through roads that overnight, sport all the politically correct new names.


Throw a few ‘ellidara boss’ into the conversation, lecture him about the perils of not wearing a seat-belt and how he cannot just snap it on when he sees a traffic cop, commiserate over the drop in revenue, allow him to vent about how rival taxis cause the biggest number of accidents on the highways, and yet how no-one sees or hears about it because, unlike some, the cops are tasked to clear the wrecks on the highway to the airport; Give a listen to a third driver about how the political machinations behind the push for Kannada and the religion tag, was creating new fault-lines, and how easily the BJP could turn the tables and retake Karnataka, and you see what I mean…

I’ve learnt more about the city and the politics of our state, while mapping Bengaluru in an Ola in the last four weeks than I have in all the forty years since I originally moved here and cracked the code on jumping in and out of buses - my sibling got a motorbike - while having the singular pleasure of having my bottom pinched. That last frontier, the Metro, where the perverts now rule, awaits.

A steep learning curve, no doubt. But garrulous cab drivers have always been the best political commentators of our times. My cabbie in Kabul - and I had just landed in the Afghan capital, days after the Taliban were booted out - took me on an unsolicited recce through bombed out roads, straight to the spot where Amitabh Bachchan had shot for Khuda Gawah. He gave me more insights into Gulbadin Hikmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massood than any warlord or expert, before or since.

So this time when I was given the brief on the difference between a Vokkaliga and a Lingayat, and the even finer line that separates a Veerashaiva from a Lingayat - the original Shaivites and those who venerate a highly evolved mortal - one could only stop and salute!

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah hasn’t probably heard of the old adage – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Should he be tinkering with tried and tested formulae when, what he needs to do, is stay the course until the polls?

The Hublot watch, despite the BJP’s best efforts is a weak charge. But that’s not to say the BJP’s master strategist Amit Shah, in his newly minted avatar as Rajya Sabha MP and PM Modi's poll winner supreme - (Ahmed Patel's victory in the RS tussle just a blip, Shah won’t be as complacent when it comes to the Gujarat assembly) -  will not pull the lid off the Mahadevappas and the D.K.Shivakumars and throw whatever else he can find to tar and feather the Siddaramaiah government.

The CM may, by accident or design, have allowed the cart to run away with the horse. Design, methinks. A masterly political passing of the buck. Whether it’s the flag or the primacy of the Kannada language, both striking at the core of Kannadiga pride, and now, the clamour for a religion tag from the Veerashaiavas, Siddaramaiah has allowed someone else in his political fraternity, in this case, the young and ambitious M.B.Patil, to lead the charge, while keeping his own distance from it, until he feels it is politic to speak out.

So here's my set of questions. When does a sect become a religion? Why does a majority upper caste community want a minority tag? Who does it help? Can this really wean the Veerashaivas away and into the Congress fold? Is it just a means to rattle the oh-so complacent BSY-led BJP, and nothing more?

My cabbie of course scoffs at it all, saying the clamour for a religion tag does not come from the poor or the deprived, who must put food on the table or perish. The only people who benefit are the men who sit atop vast educational empires which can avail of all the wonderful loopholes designed to thwart anyone from outside that charmed circle, from improving their lot.

Mr Shah must have an inkling of the danger posed by the ticking bomb in the form of the ever shriller demands by the Lingayats and Veerashaivas, and now his own Vokkaliga leaders, asking for a religious tag. The Lingayats are after all, the BJP's go -to vote bank, and have been ever since Veerendra Patil was shamed by the Congress, and the upper caste Lingayat- Brahmin-Jain vote moved en bloc, first to the Janata Dal (U) and Ramakrishna Hegde, and then to S. Bangarappa and in recent years, to the BJP.

The BJP knows it cannot call on the Vokkaligas, except in Bengaluru city of course. Although, one wonders why S.M.Krishna seems to be on ice as well. He's missing from all of the 'Welcome Amit Shah' posters in the city. Either way, Mr. Shah will reach out to the various maths that hold religious provenance  and of course, the right-leaning Sri Sri Ravishankar through Sunday, and over the months in the lead-up to the polls.

The Lingayat maths have traditionally stood by the BJP’s former chief minister B.S.Yeddyurappa, and brought him the solid 50 seat base that is his to own. But here's the thing - could BSY’s ambitious Mission 150 be just that? Ambitious? Dependent solely on his backing from the Lingayat math? BSY’s track record in office isn’t exactly stellar either. And the rumblings within the BJP - which Shah tackled head on during his interaction with the party rank and file - is a signal of a deeper malaise. While BSY has no real challenger within the party, word is that the cases of corruption against him will come up next month in the Supreme Court.

Not only will that be hugely embarrassing for the BJP, a party that has made its corruption-free tag its singular USP, my cab driver says that only Modi's popularity among the caste-free, aspirational young can over-ride the thumbs down from the slowdown of the economy.

So here's the conspiracy theory - the loud, vocal, not to be missed support for BSY, at the airport on arrival and again, at the party headquarters, twice in one day was directed at the Lingayat seers and the BJP's traditional voters with the message being that the party backed BSY all the way. But hey! If the highest court in the land rules against him, they could not be blamed if they pulled an Yogi Adityanath out of their hat!

 If you don’t believe me, Mr. Shah, just ask - no, no, not the political committee, but your friendly neighbourhood cabbie…