Will Vijaya Bank merger sway electoral results in Dakshin Kannada?

The Central government ignored the protests of people of Dakshin Kannada over merger of “their Vijaya Bank” with Bank of Baroda.

Vikram Gopal reports that the ruling party will face ire of the Bunt community of the region, which formed Vijaya Bank :

In the village of Machina, about 50km from the city, a fresh coat of plaster on the board outside a Vijaya Bank branch announces that it will henceforth be called Bank of Baroda. Resident H Subbayya Shetty says it is hard to digest the fact that the bank he worked in for 34 years is losing its identity. Shetty began his career as a clerk and retired as the managing director of the bank’s housing finance department. He was also leader of Vijaya Bank employees’ union.

Over its 88-year history, the bank came to symbolise the pride of the Bunt community, starting from the pre-Independence days. In the 1970s, when the community’s lands were redistributed to tillers as part of land reforms, the bank helped the Bunts transition out of the agrarian economy.

The government mandated a merger of the public sector Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank with Bank of Baroda on April 1, to create a more competitive financial institution. It has now turned into an emotive community pride issue in coastal Karnataka — where five of India’s prominent banks were founded in the first half of the 20th century, a fact acknowledged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a recent rally here.

Protests were held in the region condemning the merger. The Congress is trying to cash in on the issue in Dakshina Kannada, a seat that has been the stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party since 1991 and which will go to the polls on Thursday, along with 13 other Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. Congress candidate, Mithun Rai, is a member of the Bunt community as is the sitting BJP MP Nalin Kumar Kateel.

Rai says the issue is important because the community feels a sense of loss. Kateel, in turn, argues that the merger was initiated by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress.

A major chunk of the community has supported the BJP over the past three decades, said Vijay Prasad Alva, secretary of the Federation of Bunts Associations. However, this time around there was disenchantment against two-time winner Kateel, because of his failure on this front. “Kateel should have tried to put forward the community’s concerns on the matter,” Alva said. This though would not automatically translate into support for the Congress, Alva said, because the disenchantment was against the political class as a whole.

….

The merger has been challenged legally with petitions pending before the Supreme Court. Dinesh Hegde Ulepady, a lawyer involved in the case, said the merger felt cruel “because the Bank of Baroda and Dena Bank were making losses and Vijaya Bank was turning in a profit”.

However, the real letdown, according to Ulepady, was the apathetic attitude of the major political parties. “It is not enough to hold symbolic protests,” he said, adding that there are two petitions before the SC, one challenging the failure to nominate bank employees on the board, which predated the merger. “The other is a petition challenging the merger itself,” he said.

This is Dakshin Kannada region for you. As the late Dr Thingalaya explained to me, there is enormous pride in the region over their banks. There is a reason why people are so effected by this merger and loss of identity as the region’s 5 banks are their identity.

It will be interesting to see the election results in this region. After all it is perhaps a unique moment in banking history that it could influence election results too…

 

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