BENGALURU: Elections in Karnataka have been synonymous with caste equations and two communities - Lingayats and Vokkaligas - who have dominated the poll scenario for more than three decades. Caste and religion have played a bigger role than any other factor in selection of candidates and their winnability, despite lack of leadership, statesmanship, qualifications or the ability to nurture their constituencies.
Even national parties - BJP and Congress — have openly aided the tradition of caste politics in Karnataka, while JD(S), being a party of the Vokkaligas, has played the caste card cleverly. All the three parties, in fact, earmark seats for these two dominant communities.
Be it Lok Sabha or the Assembly polls, selection of candidates are purely done on caste basis — depending on the percentage of Vokkaliga or Lingayat voters (or Kuruba in some) in a constituency. In the last Assembly polls, if Congress identified more than 100 seats for the three castes — Vokkaligas, Lingayats and Kurubas — the BJP was not far behind as they kept a whopping 75 seats for Lingayats and only 20% for Vokkaligas.
If North Karnataka is known as the Lingayat heartland, Old Mysore is the Vokkaliga bastion. So, both BJP and Congress have been fielding either Lingayats or Vokkaligas in both these regions. Political analyst Mohan Ram says, “It was the Lingayats (out of power for 12 years from 1971-1983) who started the culture of caste politics in Karnataka. They could not tolerate the dominance of Devraj Urs and so they strived to gain power by introducing the caste factor in Karnataka elections from the 1980s.”
RLM Patil, a political scientist says, “Caste factor came into play as there is no political ideology as such in our state dividing the communities, unlike our neighbours. So, caste is the only factor dividing society as even ideological differences between top leaders do not exist. Even the strong Communist strongholds have evaporated in the state. We are soft people, not hardliners — following a middle path. So, caste plays a role in elections ... but in this election, there is no strong wave in the state. And so, it is easy to justify caste as a villain in elections.”
Prof Patil adds, “This election, caste is going to play a lesser role as the popular narrative is centred on pro and anti-Modi forces. Further, supporters of Rahul Gandhi are not driven by any caste or ideological considerations but anti-Modi factor and so critics of Modi are rallying around Rahul.”