Incoming: Elections and promises for Banjaras

Politics State

Congress will allocate Rs.1000 crores towards the Lambani community if elected to power.

Congress will allocate Rs. 1000 crores for the development of Lambani community over the next five years if elected to power, said Prakash Rathore, Opposition chief whip for Congress in the state legislative council.

With the state elections around the corner, political parties are promising big to the Lambani community, which forms a major part of the Schedule Caste (SC) community in Karnataka.

Prakash Rathore said, “During our previous tenure, we had dispensed Rs. 450 crores for them but unfortunately the current government has given only Rs. 70 crores towards the Banjaras,” he added.

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi distributed 52,000 land title deed rights to Lambani tanda dwellers in Malkhed on January19, this year. He criticized the previous government for not doing enough for the community. The PM and his party in the state plan to provide one lakh title deeds to these families and convert the thandas into revenue villages.

Lambanis are a nomadic group concentrated in Bidar, Raichur, Kalaburgi, Viayapura and Bijapur districts of Northern Karnataka. Thandas are the tribal hamlets of the Banjara community.

Dr. Harish Lambani, who has written a book on Lambani community in addition to eight articles on various issues related to them, said that land was a state subject in the constitution. He added that the PM took over the duties of Chief Minister (CM) Bommai. “This shows how the BJP is trying to hijack the community in the state,” he remarked.

Comparing the PM to a tehsildar, Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Bangalore president, Mohan Dasari said that across the state, land rights were distributed by tehsildars and the PM had become a tehsildar himself for the upcoming elections. “Distributing land rights to such communities is the duty of the government. They made such a spectacle out of it as if they are doing a favour to them,” he remarked.

PM Narendra Modi distributed 52,000 land title deed rights to Lambani tanda dwellers in Malkhed on January 19.

Prakash Rathore also said, “The Prime Minister is distributing land rights to people which a tehsildar or a minister can do. His doing such a menial job made a laughing stock of the party.”

Dasari said if his party came to power, such land rights would be distributed on a much larger scale. “We won’t make a spectacle out of it like the current government did because this is something a government is supposed to do. We will identify the families who have been living there for half a decade now and distribute the property rights,” he said.

He said his party would focus on the education of the children of this community. Suresh Rathore, AAP spokesperson said quality education in the community was lacking due to excessive migration.

Prakash Rathore said he has worked closely with the community and the biggest problem with them was migration. “They migrate to Maharashtra in search of jobs because there are not enough jobs for them in the state. When they migrate, the children are left behind with their grandparents. “There are no schools in Lambani villages. The government should have focused on that,” he added.

He said out of the Rs.1000 crores that his party would allocate to this community after coming back to power, the party would first build schools for the children. “The funds will for construction of roads in these villages, drinking water connections to the families and other facilities which this government had failed to provide,” he said.

Meanwhile, the AAP spokesperson said that the community was politically utilized by the BJP. “If we come to power we enrich their culture and modernize their handicrafts through different programs.”

Dr. Lambani said the needs of this community have changed drastically. “In the 1980s, all they needed was food, water and shelter and any party who could provide it became a hotspot for the community.” He said post-2014, they have started aiming for societal acceptance because their identity is being linked to Hinduism. “They are being portrayed as protectors of cows since they have had a close association with cattle as they are nomads. Because of this, the right-wing social media groups have come in support of them and the communities that were earlier unwelcoming to Banjaras have warmed their hearts towards them.”

He said the BJP government had exercised all the right tactics to woo them whereas the Congress is still confused and figuring out the socio-political needs of the community. “Lambanis greet each other saying Ram Rami which translates into a simple greeting ‘How are you?’. But the political parties have associated this with Lord Ram, using them as a political tool for elections,” he adds.

But in reality, Banjaras do not have any religion, he said. “Most of them are Hindus but their caste system is nothing like the Hindu caste system.” He added that this community had five groups and each group had six to 52 sub-groups within them with their own traditions of marriage and property rights.

Dr. Surendra Kumar, a political science professor at Bangalore University said that the SC vote was no longer consolidated with Congress and BJP had managed to secure the votes of the community.

However, Prakash Rathore said that it was a myth in the media that the Lambanis were no longer supporting Congress. “Lambanis play a decisive role in eight constituencies in Karnataka and the Congress has the support of about 20,000 to 25,000 Lambanis in each of these constituencies.”

The SCs were being taken for granted by Congress and BJP saw it as an opportunity, said Dr Kumar. He said, “Congress did not entirely sideline them but they did take them for granted. To win them back, they need to start campaigning on the grassroots level in the areas.”

Dr Veenadevi, a political science professor who did a research project on “Voters choice in Karnataka” said that the political parties targeted the majority population in the region and offered them incentives to vote for them.

Dr. Veenadevi said, “The parties select popular candidates from the same community or sub cast and these candidates further bribe the local community leaders to get the votes of the entire community.” She added that how such communities are seen as vote banks for the parties is a pressing issue.

“Any political party that can provide pilgrimage connectivity from the birthplace of Sevalal Maharaj (religious leader of the Lambani community), i.e Suragondanakoppa, Karnataka to his death place i.e Ruigarh in Maharashtra will win the votes of this community,” concludes Dr. Harish.

According to Google arts and culture, Lambanis or Banjaras were nomadic tribes who came from Afghanistan to Rajasthan and have now spread themselves across Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Karnataka has the second largest population of Lambanis in the country and the state is home to around 35 lakh Lambanis. They are at third position when it comes to population among 101 sub-castes that have been recognized as Scheduled Castes (SCs) in the state.