Jaya Lakshmi had hoped the meal would pave the way for jobs for her son and daughter. Now, with the visit of former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and other BJP leaders to her home in Maraluru Dinne Colony on the outskirts of Tumakuru city snowballing into a controversy, the Dalit family is on the tenterhooks. The 45-year-old and her daughter, H Rekha, 27, worked till almost 1 am the night before and got up at 5 am on May 18 to prepare the breakfast for their rare upper-caste guests. Lakshmi says they made idli, vada and lemon rice, “as advised by BJP leaders”.
Initially, she adds, they planned to also prepare obbattu (a typical Karnataka sweet dish). However, the family was told that most of the leaders would be diabetic and they should avoid sweets. After the cooking was done, Rekha cleaned the house and the outside area as well.
They were excited, Lakshmi adds. Her husband Hanumantharaya is a daily wage labourer, and the family makes ends meet with great difficulty. Her elder son H Madhu Kumar, who works as a salesman for a pharmacy firm, says he had come in contact with a few local BJP workers who had been assigned the task of finding a Dalit house that Yeddyurappa, the state party president, and other top leaders could visit. Kumar says they asked him if his family would be willing to host the BJP leaders. This was three days prior to the visit. “We didn’t believe it at first. However, later we got confirmation. The local leaders assured me that my family members would benefit from the visit,” says Kumar, 25.
“On May 18, I started preparing the food at 7 am and was done by 10.30 am. The leaders came around 11 am,” Lakshmi says. Yeddyurappa, Union Minister Ananth Kumar, K S Eshwarappa, Shobha Karandlaje and a few others ate the food prepared by her and Rekha, she adds. “They left for the village festival after they had breakfast.” Their small house, including a kitchen, a small room and a big hall, was swarming with people, Lakshmi remembers.
The others who had accompanied the BJP leaders and waited outside were served restaurant food, she says. “We had prepared food for only 15 people.” Adds Kumar, “The local leaders had prepared a memorandum asking the senior leaders for jobs for my sister and me. I have completed an ITI course and Rekha has a Diploma in Education. We are hoping for government jobs. Yeddyurappa assured me he would provide us with jobs.”
However, soon after, the visit took a twist when photographs and stories appeared in the social media suggesting that during his visit, Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, hadn’t had food prepared by the Dalit family but ordered from a restaurant. A Dalit youth in Mandya district filed a case against the BJP state chief, while the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) slammed the BJP “stunt” to attract Dalit votes as the state heads to polls.
The family is stunned at the turn of events. “We spent around Rs 6,000, on the food we prepared and on what we ordered from a hotel. We were happy to see all those senior leaders in our small house,” Lakshmi says. Kumar says BJP workers themselves got the food from various hotels in Tumakuru as more than 250 people gathered around their house after the BJP leaders came. Part of this was paid by the family, he adds.
Yathisha R, a supporter of BJP ticket aspirant from Tumakuru City Assembly constituency Jyothi Ganesh, says they got idlis for around 200 people. Yathisha adds that among those who had the idlis from the restaurant was Ganesh and his father and former MP G S Basavaraju (also Lingayats), as well as a number of other leaders belonging to other prominent castes.
Interestingly, the same story repeated at another breakfast Yeddyurappa had at a Dalit home the next day. On May 19, around 8.30 am, the entourage stopped over at the house of Vajramuni, a daily wage labourer, at Kelakote in Chitradurga. The BJP leaders were on their way to a public meeting.
“We prepared rice and idli items and served them to Yeddyurappa and the others, and they ate the food. But we also bought some food from the hotel when hundreds of BJP workers came with the senior leaders. It was not a big thing, but some people made it big for political gains. I am just a citizen of India and not a worker or associated with any political party,” Vajramuni can be heard saying in a video circulated by BJP leaders.
Lakshmi says she would not have offered any food to BJP leaders if she knew the fuss that would follow. Hundreds of people, including mediapersons, have been visiting her house to enquire about what happened that day. “My husband was called by local BJP leaders to clarify that Yeddyurappa ate food prepared at our house. What is the use of all this drama?” she asks.
“I don’t think senior leaders visiting Dalit homes would bring changes to our life or the caste system,” Kumar shrugs, pointing out that only a few of his and his brother’s upper-caste friends have ever eaten at their house, and only on some special occasion.
“I read a statement of Congress MLA Sathish Jarkiholi after this incident that upper-caste people should invite Dalits to their houses for food rather than visiting Dalit houses and posing, if they are going to reform society. I completely agree with this,” says the 25-year-old. “If upper-caste people start inviting Dalits to their houses, that would have an impact on society.”
In the meantime, the memory of Yeddyurappa’s visit will fade soon enough —and for another reason. Just before the visit, Kumar bought a Vivo V5s smartphone for Rs 19,000 so as to click a selfie with the BJP leaders at his house. He lost it near his house, he says, even before they arrived.