20 August 2021 marked the 106th birth anniversary of D Devaraj Urs, Former Chief Minister of Karnataka and a significant figure in Indian politics. Urs was elected chief minister twice consecutively in the state, from 1972-’77, and from 1978-’80. His political career was dedicated to the upliftment of the marginalised castes in Karnataka, making him one of the first few Chief ministers in the country to appoint a commission to identify the backward classes. In 1975, under the leadership of Urs, his law minister L G Hanavur, submitted the Backward Classes report (also known as Hanavur Report) that identified backward classes in Karnataka and created reservation policies for them under his ministry. It was also referred to, later on, for the Mandal commission in 1979, making it a landmark study of backward classes in the country.
Winning from the Hunsur constituency in Karnataka, Urs won elections for 28 years, making him a a very popular icon in Karnataka’s political history and one of the longest serving chief ministers of the state. He was known to be a member of the ‘syndicates’ in the state faction of the Indian National Congress, which referred to a group of powerful regional leaders from the state. Though he stayed close to the interests of his party cadre, Urs was known to be an outsider and never imposed himself while making decisions. Being a close ally to then prime minister Indira Gandhi, Urs stayed loyal to the traditional party leadership until 1979, when he left, following differences he had with Mrs. Gandhi. He did not abandon her when the first split of the Congress occurred in 1969, Urs and his allies stayed in Congress (R). Under his leadership, Congress (R) managed to win all seats for the Lok Sabha elections and a significant majority for the state assembly elections that followed.
The rise in popularity of Devaraj Urs is drawn by his dedication to eradicate caste inequalities that were rampant in Karnataka. He mainly appointed academics and technocrats in his cabinet to fullfill his vision for an equal and just society. Believing in Dr. B R Ambedkar’s vision of annihilation of caste, Urs pointed out that no social progress was possible without challenging the rigid inequalities of caste.
He is behind the metropolitan vision of Bengaluru city and, in the agriculture sector, he introduced the Kali project that ensured irrigation to fields. During his tenure, Karnataka went through a radical shape shifting, when he introduced land distribution ‘to the tiller’, making him an important social reformer to be remembered in India polity.
Akmal Ahmed is a final year Masters student in Sociology at the University of
Hyderabad. He is interested in politics, human rights and education.
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