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Remembering Devaraj Urs

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D. Devaraj Urs was a rare breed of politician who had earned a special place in the hearts of people. Coming from a microscopic community and with no backing of major communities, Devaraj Urs became famous not only in the State politics but also throughout the country through his social concerns. The former Chief Minister was a strong advocate of social reforms and strove hard for ensuring social justice. As such, it would be apt to call him a social reformer rather than a politician.

A great humanist:
Basically a politician with a humane outlook, Devaraj Urs widely believed that only 10 percent of the people lived a luxurious life at the expense of 90 percent of poor people, a majority of them being manual labourers, who included farmers and the working class. Urs always stood by the notion that "The entire nation will come to a standstill if the working class stopped working; but at the same time, nothing will change if the elite class, which constitutes only 10 percent of country’s population, stop their business. As such, working class should get its due share and honour to keep the country’s wheels moving."

Devaraj Urs also believed that no political changes can be brought about if there was no deviation from old practices. As such, he constituted a youth force, represented by almost all communities, to play an active role in politics, which turned out to be a big success for him. Some of his young followers then included the likes of R. Gundu Rao, M. Veerappa Moily, S. Bangarappa and S. M. Krishna, who all became Chief Ministers of the State later and some SC / ST leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, T. N. Narasimha Murthy, K. H. Ranganath, B. Shankarananda, B. Basavalingappa, L. G. Havanur etc, who have made a mark for themselves in State politics. The other Backward Class leaders groomed by Urs included Dharam Singh, K. T. Rathod and Shivanna.

A social reformer:
Despite his penchant for uplifting the Backward Classes and down - trodden, Urs did not believe in caste system as he perceived it as a great tragedy, brought about by some self - centred rulers of the past purely to nurture their self - interests.

Realising the gross inequalities that existed between the working and the non - working class, Urs was of the firm opinion that the first task ahead of him was the eradication of caste system. As such, he brought in several political, economic and social reforms. Believing that there should be no person in this country who does not possess a single piece of land, Urs ushered in a new land policy that was targeted at distributing land to the landless labourers. He also took great pains to provide shelter to the shelterless under Garibi Hatao Scheme. He also strove hard for eradication of bonded labour, besides launching a massive rehabilitation programme for the victims, which brought about a revolutionary change.

Apart from this, Devaraj Urs constituted the L. G. Havanur Commission for Backward Classes, whose report is often referred to by many as the Bible for Backward Classes.

Acting on the Commission's report, Urs lent voice to the voiceless backward class and microscopic communities by introducing reservation for them. Apart from instilling confidence among them, Urs gave them strength to fight for their rights, thus sowing the seeds for a new kind of social revolution.

Urs introduced a policy which was termed “The tiller owns the land”, which brought revolutionary changes in land ownership, at a time when land was owned by a few elite and powerful, only to hang on to their prestige and status in the society. Urs, taking note of the exploitation that the labourers and land tillers were subjected to, introduced sweeping reforms by bestowing land ownership rights to them. With the introduction of this reform, the benami land owners had to hand over the land to farmers.

Urs, who maintained a strong political will, resisted pressure from vested interests to introduce the revolutionary “Land Reforms Act”. With the introduction of this revolutionary Act, Urs had to face the wrath of the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities, who owned a major chunk of the land in the State. These communities, unable to stomach the revolutionary changes in land holdings, launched a vicious campaign against Urs, claiming that he had deceived them.

Tragic hero:
It was Devaraj Urs who pulled up Indira Gandhi from near political oblivion following her defeat in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, by providing her an opportunity to contest the by election from Chikkamagalur Lok Sabha constituency. The win in this election saw the revival of Indira's political fortunes. But some elements within the then Congress party, unable to fathom Devaraj Urs' clout, began making complaints against him, besides launching a smear campaign, even terming him as the “father of corruption”. This resulted in serious differences cropping up between Indira and Urs, following which they fell apart and the rest in history.

Urs did not amass wealth of enormous proportions and instead, fell victim to a malicious campaign against him that made him "look" corrupt.

Urs, who dedicated his entire political career for the upliftment of the poor and the downtrodden, was unjustly labelled as corrupt by his adversaries. He can be termed as a tragic hero of politics very much complying with the Kannada adage: Sharanara Savannu Maranadalli Kaanu (See the saint in his death). His popularity among the masses can be gauged by the huge turn - out of supporters enroute when his body was being brought by road from Bangalore to his native place Kallahalli in Hunsur taluk on June 6, 1982, the day he died.

An architect of social change:
D. Devaraj Urs, who created an entirely different political thought through his governance as the Chief Minister of Karnataka for eight years, hails from the 50,000 strong Urs community. While governing the State, Devaraj Urs took into consideration mainly the welfare of the people and for this cause, he did not hesitate to alter the law. He expected even his Cabinet of Ministers to be prompt and efficient in their work. There were no complaints about financial matters and release of funds to pay the salary of teachers or the bills of contractors in his government.

It was Devaraj Urs who laid the foundation for the internationally renowned Electronic City in Bangalore. He approved the proposal of R. K. Baliga to develop the Electronic City in 1970 and its foundation laying ceremony was held in 1976. Urs brought a new scheme to light up the homes of poor by facilitating supply of electricity to all.

This architect of social change was remembered by the citizens of Mysore on his 29th death anniversary on June 6 through a seminar on “MPs remember Urs” under the leadership of H. Vishwanath, Lok Sabha Member from Mysore, at Rani Bahaddur Auditorium, B. N. Bahaddur Institute of Management Sciences, Manasa Gangotri, at 11 am.

A profile:
D. Devaraj Urs was born on Aug. 20, 1915 at Kallahalli in Hunsur taluk, Mysore district. He was the son of Devaraj Urs and Devirammanni couple. His brother was Kemparaje Urs. Devaraj Urs had his primary and high school education in Urs Boarding School, Mysore and later BA Degree in Maharaja College. He later returned to Kallahalli and engaged himself in agriculture.

But his innate leadership quality did not let him stay in the village and brought him to politics. He entered politics in 1952 and was an MLA for 10 years. When Congress split in 1969 as Samstha and Indira Congress, he stood with Indira Gandhi. He became the Chief Minister (fifth Assembly) for the first time from 20. 03.1972 to 31.12.1977, later for the second time from 17. 03.1978 to 08. 06. 1980 (sixth Assembly). Devaraj Urs was married to Chikkammanni and blessed with three daughters — Chandra Prabha, Nagarathna and Bharathi. He passed away on June 6, 1982.

… in the eyes of his daughter:
"My father entered politics for serving people. He had no other ambition," says Chandra Prabha Urs, former MLA and daughter of late Devaraj Urs.

"He was the member of Praja Pratinidhi Sabha of the erstwhile Mysore State. His rurality which was infused into his personality, bestowed him with qualities like helping nature, impartial justice, etc. He took the State towards development as MLA for 10 years and Chief Minister for 8 years.

"During his tenure, he introduced many pro - people schemes. When the Land Reforms Act was enacted, he was the first person to give his six acre land to a poor Dalit named Cheluvaiah.

"Himself an agriculturist, my father tilled his farm land, lovingly looked after the cattle by washing them and milking. He was a living example for the phrase “Work as a servant, eat as a king” (aalagi dudi, arasaagi unnu).

"As a Chief Minister, he gave first preference to irrigation, agriculture and electricity as these were the three facilities much needed by the farmers. He never misused his power. One day in 1974, two years after he became the CM, he called his family members together and said, "The citizens of the State have given me this position. I will use my power for their welfare. You should not succumb to any lures. His words are still ringing in my ears."

"My father looked after all three of his daughters as sons. Those were our childhood days. We went around the villages in bullock cart carrying the National Flag for election campaign. In those days, campaigning was not as grand and pomp as it is now. My father sold his land to fund the election campaign. This money would be spent on publicity, pamphlets and conducting functions. The politicians then did not distribute cash. A very down – to - earth person, he solved the grievances of the public on – the - spot.

"He was fond of ragi mudde, rotti, soppina saru and other simple dishes. He never went to five - star hotels in the name of functions, but sat on mats and satiated himself with simple food."

Courtesy: Star of Mysore

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