Maya’s White Elephant Down South

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The southward thrust of the BSP has achieved modest success so far but the state party chief is under a cloud, writes Imran Khan

Muniyappa (centre) with BSP supporters
Flag-bearer: Muniyappa (centre) with BSP supporters at a rally in the Karnataka capital, Photo: Bangalore news photos

THE KARNATAKA BSP President Marasandra Muniyappa is doing a Mayawati in Bengaluru. He has built a white mansion named after his leader and a colony in the name of BSP founder Kanshi Ram. Unexceptional, except for the fact that it is alleged he has done so by usurping land belonging to poor Dalits. Not only is Muniyappa emulating his boss in the amassing of personal property and building ostentatious memorials to Dalit icons, he has been accused of cheating Dalits and grabbing their property. Fed up with inaction, the Karnataka High Court recently directed the home secretary, city police commissioner and the chief secretary to explain why Muniyappa has not been arrested so far.

Muniyappa, 54, currently the state BSP president, was an unknown entity until the 2004 Assembly elections. Contesting from Satanur constituency, his candidature had consolidated the constituency’s Dalit vote bank in favour of the BSP. Although he lost the election, he managed to dent the Congress vote share, proving consequential in the victory of the BJP.

According to his affidavit filed before the Election Commission, he did not possess any land in 2004. Luck smiled on him in 2008 and he is now rumoured to be worth Rs 500 crore. During a BSP convention attended by Mayawati, he was made president of the state party.

In the words of former state president B Gopal, Muniyappa played the caste card. Belonging to the Madiga (cobbler) caste, which forms 8 percent of the state population, he seemed to be the ideal choice for the post. Unlike the Holiyars (bonded labourers), the BSP had not been able to rope in the complete support of the Madigas. Says Gopal, a Holiyar, “Mayawati thought since Holiyars were already consolidated by the BSP, with Madiga consolidation, they could become a force to reckon with in the state.’’ However, he adds, Mayawati does not know that Muniyappa has no real support base.

So far, 34 cases of land-grab, cheating, intimidation, attempt to murder and extortion have been registered against him. His ire has been directed mostly against his own community. And most of his victims have been poor, helpless Dalits from whom he has usurped land. And others who are not Dalits like V Shankar and Bashir Ahmed have been threatened with rape cases and SC/ST atrocities case if they dare to challenge him.

Some of the major cases against him are as follows:
1. LAKSHMIPURA: Eleven acres in Bengaluru North taluk, Yeshwanthpur, Lakshmipura were originally allotted to five poor Dalit women. Under the Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Land (PTCL) Act, 1978, land given to ST/SC cannot be sold or bought (even by other Dalits) without the permission of the state government. But Muniyappa managed to transfer the land. He formed a layout in nine acres, naming it after BSP founder Kanshi Ram. ‘The Kanshi Ram Layout’ — the streets of which have been named after other Dalit icons Jyotiba Phule, Sahu Maharaj and Gautam Buddha — now mocks those whose condition they sought to improve.

In the remaining two acres, Muniyappa constructed Mayawati White House, and got it inaugurated by the UP CM herself. Gowramma and Jayamma, now destitute, have got an injunction from the court. But they have paid a heavy price for taking legal recourse. On 6 January, Muniyappa and his henchmen made an attempt on the life of their brother Veeranna, 46. A shocked Veeranna told TEHELKA from his City Bowring Hospital bed, “Being a Dalit leader, Muniyappa should have been working for the upliftment of Dalits, but he has become the oppressor.” A case has been registered at Hebbal against Muniyappa, his son Sandeep and a few others. Muniyappa told TEHELKA the layout and his house have been built on property bought by him, and he has legal papers to back it up. He said neither he nor any of his party members attacked Veeranna.

2. NEW INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT LAND CASE: Thirty acres belonging to Dalit families, handed over to them through the PTCL Act by the state government, have been allegedly sold by Muniyappa. This 30-acre granite land is said to have fetched him close to Rs 60 crore. A case has been registered against him at the Kodihalli police station, Bengaluru.

‘Muniyappa should be working for the uplift of Dalits. But he has become the oppressor,’ says Veeranna

3. V SHANKAR LAND CASE: Eyeing a 10,000 sq ft plot in the heart of the city, Muniyappa allegedly got his henchman Domlur V Muniswamy to threaten former director of Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) V Shankar, 49. Shankar approached the Indiranagar police in 2009, even confessing that he paid Rs 5 lakh to Muniswamy to reach a compromise. But the threats continued unabated. Shankar also alleges that when he brought the matter to Ulsoor Division Law Officer Venkataramanappa, Muniyappa threatened him in front of the officer, warning that false rape cases and cases under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act would be filed against him.

4. DODDABALLAPUR LAND CASE: Around 200 acres of land near Anjanmurthy layout in Bengaluru belonging to several Dalit families have been acquired by Muniyappa through forged agreements. The landowners have now filed a case against him, and are preparing to approach the court to get their land back.

5. DODDABALLAPUR STONE QUARRY CASE: In another cheating case, Muniyappa had sub-leased a stone quarry lease to one Syed Bashir Ahmed in 2011, for which he took an advance of Rs 7 lakh. However, the lease lapsed and due to environmental concerns further permission for quarrying was denied. Muniyappa threatened to shoot Ahmed with the rifle of the gunman provided to him by the government. A case of cheating and criminal intimidation (under sections 420 and 506 of the IPC) has been registered against him by the Thalaghat Pura Police of Ramnagaram district. Muniyappa admits that he sub-leased his stone quarry lease when it was about to expire. But he says Ahmed knew about this at the time of signing the agreement.

THERE ARE other cases of alleged land-grab and extortion registered against Muniyappa: the Nagadahalli land case, Rajankunte Housing Corporation case and Byrasandra land case.

Dalits who lost their land have now come under the banner of DVSS — Dalitarinda Dalitara Shoshana Virodhi Samithi — a forum against Dalit oppression. In a case filed by them, the high court has asked the home secretary, city police commissioner and chief secretary to give reasons why this man, despite having a dozen cases registered against him, has managed to hood-wink the law.

“I vaguely recall references like that being made but am not in a position to tell you right now,” said Home Secretary, RH Auradhkar, when asked about these cases. City Police Commissioner Jyothi Prakash Mirji, however, remembers the details. “We took action against him (Muniyappa) earlier,” he says. “But he got bail. We will do whatever the court directs us to.”

When contacted, the BSP President said all the cases against him are politically motivated, and have been filed at the behest of Congress leader and MoS in the Railways KH Muniyappa, a Madiga Dalit. Since the 2004 Assembly poll, he said, the Congress party has lost 42 seats because of the BSP and has been able to win only 68 seats in the House of 224.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com. 
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