Bengaluru: When Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi took oath as a minister of state in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Union cabinet on Tuesday, he became the only addition from the south in the cabinet expansion.

The 64-year-old Jigajinagi, who belongs to a scheduled caste, is a lawmaker from North Karnataka’s Bijapur constituency. He has won five Lok Sabha elections in a row, and previously served as a legislator in the state assembly for three terms and as a state revenue minister.

Like many other senior state legislators, Jigajinagi entered politics rebelling against the Emergency under the mentorship of Ramakrishna Hegde, the late leader of the undivided Janata Party and three-time chief minister of Karnataka.

Jigajinagi became a popular Dalit leader from the northern drylands during a long stint as a legislator from Chikkodi, Karnataka’s sugar hub.

He sealed his popularity after defeating former Union minister and seven-term Congress MP, B. Shankaranand, from Chikkodi in his debut Lok Sabha election in 1998.

Jigajinagi retained the Chikkodi Lok Sabha seat for the next three terms, even as he switched from Lok Shakthi to Janata Dal (United), (after parties’ merger) and then to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Jigajinagi is known for asserting his caste identity without taking a confrontational approach. The story goes that he was once invited to inaugurate an event in a temple while serving as an legislator but had to face an embarrassing situation when the upper caste Hindus opposed his entry.

He has not visited an upper caste Hindu temple since then, according to people close to Jigajinagi.

“He is a veteran of the Janata movement in Karnataka and has served several governments and parliamentary panels. He has a lot of experience in working in the government—both at the state and central levels," said Rajeev Gowda, a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka.

The politics behind the elevation of Jigajinagi is hard to miss, feel analysts. It comes at a time when the state unit of the BJP is preparing for the assembly elections due in 2018—an important target in Modi’s goal of making India “Congress-free".

The party recently welcomed B.S. Yeddyurappa, a former chief minister and Lingayat community strongman who quit the BJP once, back into the its fold.

Jigajinagi’s elevation shows that the BJP is keen to make a dent in the Ahinda votebank (AHINDA is a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and dalits), which is considered to be a support base of Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah, said Narendra Pani, a political analyst and professor at School of Social Sciences of National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bengaluru.

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