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Krishna caught in caste storm

New Delhi, Dec. 9: A political storm is brewing in Karnataka.

The Lingayat community, to which H. Nagappa belonged, is accusing chief minister S.M. Krishna and the Congress of not doing enough to secure the safe release of the former Janata Dal (United) minister.

For Krishna, who barely managed to wriggle out of the recent crisis over Cauvery waters, the fallout of Nagappa’s death in Veerappan’s captivity could be critical. In the last elections, the Congress had managed to get some Lingayat votes. But of late, the community had switched loyalties to the BJP and the Dal (U).

Krishna belongs to the Vokkaliga community, which accounts for 9 to 10 per cent of the votes. Lingayats account for 13 to 14 per cent.

Lingayat leaders accuse Krishna and his party of being indifferent to the community. They say that when Rajkumar, who belongs to the backward Idiga community, was abducted by the forest bandit, Krishna held at least 10 meetings with his Tamil Nadu counterpart Jayalalithaa.

Krishna, however, put up a brave front. “The situations were altogether different,” he shot back when his attention was drawn to the accusations that his government did not initiate steps to secure Nagappa’s release as it had done during Rajkumar’s abduction. “No analogy should be drawn between the Nagappa and Rajkumar kidnap episodes,” he told reporters before leaving for Bangalore.

Asked why his government did not launch operations against Veerappan as announced soon after the Kannada screen icon was released, Krishna said: “That is a matter for debate.”

Later in Bangalore, he tried to turn the tables on Opposition parties, which called for his resignation for alleged “mishandling” of the hostage crisis. Krishna asked them to explain why they had mounted pressure on the government to call off the Special Task Force operations against the forest brigand.

“The Opposition, which has been orchestrating for my resignation, owes an explanation to the people on why they pressurised the government to call off STF operations,” he said.

Asked if the parties that his government took into confidence at every stage of the kidnap crisis were playing a “convenient political game”, Krishna said he did not want to blame any one. “We all owe an explanation to the people of the state,” he added.

Karnataka, which had launched an “aggressive assault” on the brigand, was forced to call it off after Opposition parties, heads of “mutts” and Nagappa’s family demanded a halt to the operations. The mutt heads and swamijis have a good deal of influence over the Lingayat community.

According to unconfirmed reports, the mutts not only campaigned for the release of Tamil activist Kolathur Mani, whom Veerappan wanted as negotiator, but also raised Rs 10 crore to pay as ransom.

According to Congress sources, Mani, who also took part in the negotiations to secure Rajkumar’s release, allegedly pocketed a portion of the ransom amount rumoured to have been paid to the bandit.

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