In a highly caste-ridden state like Karnataka, all election debates centre around caste. The Chief Minister Siddaramaiah-led ruling Congress is confident of retaining the government while the BJP is also ready with its own data and hopeful of a win.
The JD (S), trying hard to create a badly hung Assembly, claiming that it will come to power is making its own calculations.
The stakes are high for everyone in the high-octane election largely being seen as a semi-final ahead of the final showdown in 2019. The caste equation plays an important role in any election in the country and Karnataka is no different. All parties of the southern state are baking on caste-centric approach, as is evident in their campaign, to win the polls.
Siddaramaiah government conducted a caste census in the state in 2015. Though official results of the same have not been made public, various media outlets reported on the caste divisions in the state, claiming to be from the survey.
According to the census data, Dalits and Muslims outnumber Lingayats and Vokkaligas. The Scheduled Castes (SCs) account for 19.5 per cent of the total population in the state, making it the single-largest caste entity. Muslims come next, making up 16 per cent. These two groups are followed by the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, who make up 14 per cent and 11 per cent of the population, respectively.
Among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Kurubas alone account for 7 per cent of the state’s population. Overall, the OBCs make up 20 per cent of Karnataka’s population.
As per the data, SCs, STs, Muslims and Kurubas together form 47.5 per cent of the total population, making it the strongest combination. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA (Minorities, Backward Classes and Dalits) group would be the most formidable one in the state, forcing Lingayats and Vokkaligas to play second fiddle to them.
The revelations of the survey punched holes in the earlier claims of Lingayats and Vokkaligas that their communities are the majority in the state.
Since Independence, Lingayats and Vokkaligas have been controlling the levers of power, claiming to be the ‘top communities’ in the state. The two castes have always accounted for 50 per cent of the MP and MLA seats from the state, irrespective of the party in power.
Nevertheless, about 80 percent of the 6.5 crore population of Karnataka belongs to Minorities, OBCs, SCs and STs.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah belongs to the backward caste Kurubas, who popularly proclaims himself to be following socio-political philosophy ‘Ahinda’ (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits). Among the crucial election promises of Congress party in the state is to enhance the reservation quota for SCs, STs and OBCs from 50 per cent to 70 per cent, thus wooing voters from minority and vulnerable communities seem to be Congress line of approach.
Siddaramaiah-led Congress government recently accepted an expert committee’s recommendation, and accorded the status of a religion (a minority one) to the Lingayat sect, until now considered a part of Hinduism.
The move, which analysts see as an astute political move and opponents as an opportunistic one with an eye on the forthcoming state elections in Karnataka, acknowledges an almost four-decade-long demand by the Lingayats.
Lingayats currently have 5 per cent reservation and are classified as an Other Backward Class.
BS Yeddyurappa, BJP state president and party’s chief ministerial candidate belongs to Lingayat community, the dominant caste in the state. Despite corruption charges, BJP made him the chief ministerial candidate as his support base among the Lingayat voters remains intact.
The BJP, which has largely been seen as a ‘Lingayat’ party has failed to win the support of the Vokkaliga community. But with former Congressman SM Krishna joining the BJP, the party is trying to win the Vokkaliga votes and make inroads into the Old Mysore region.
On the other hand, JD(S) had earlier announced that its CM candidate as HD Kumaraswamy, son of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, belongs to Vokkaligas, another dominant caste in the state.
On 8 February, JD(S) had officially forged an alliance with Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) for the upcoming elections. Therefore hoping support from upper caste Vokkaligas and Dalits.