Caste survey report can put Karnataka congress in a bind

Former AICC president Rahul Gandhi may be batting for the caste census at the national level. Given the tricky situation, the government may just receive the report and refrain from any action.

Published: 19th November 2023 07:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th November 2023 07:39 AM   |  A+A-

Caste census, caste survey

Image used for representational purpose only.

Express News Service

The much-talked-about “socio-economic, educational survey”, often referred to as a caste survey, commissioned by Siddaramaiah during his first tenure as Chief Minister from 2013 to 2018, seems to be jinxed.

Just when it seemed Chief Minister Siddaramaiah would make the most of the report to further consolidate his position in Congress as a champion of the backward classes, the opposition to it is growing by the day. Given the current political atmosphere in the state, the report is unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon, unless the ruling Congress is willing to take a huge political risk just ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. That looks highly unlikely.

In the next few days, the report is expected to be submitted to the state government by Karnataka State Permanent Backward Classes Commission (KSPBCC) Chairman Jayaprakash Hegde. His tenure is ending this month. Siddaramaiah has often stated that his government is committed to accepting the report and implementing its recommendations. He even blamed the governments that came to power after 2018 for failing to accept the report. H Kantharaju was the chairman of KSPBCC when the Rs 160 crore exercise was done and the report was prepared.

It is easier said than done for Siddaramaiah and Congress to implement the recommendations of the report. Two dominant communities, Lingayats and Vokkaligas, are up in arms against it. Their concerns are based on allegedly leaked contents of the report that put their numbers at much less than what they believe them to be. In the last few days, prominent leaders from the two communities discussed the yet-to-be-submitted report and expressed their opposition to it.

A section of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community feels it is a manipulated report. Their apprehension is that the community’s population is shown less than half of the actual numbers. But, the numbers are not the only concern. They are more worried about the report misrepresenting the socio-economic and educational status of the community. That could have far-reaching implications on the development of the predominantly farming community that also includes a large section that is economically and educationally backward.

Veerashaiva Mahasabha Secretary Renuka Prasanna says the government should conduct a fresh survey linking Aadhaar and using the latest technologies to ensure its accuracy. Influential seer of Vokkaliga community’s Adichunchangiri Mutt Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji reflected the community’s views that the report does not capture the real situation. He too asked the government to reconsider it and, if possible, conduct a fresh census.

Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress president DK Shivakumar was present at the Vokkaliga community leaders’ meeting that opposed the report. That was significant considering the influence he wields in the current dispensation and the party. Shivakumar cannot afford to antagonise the community.
If Siddaramaiah or his camp followers push for it, it can potentially create internal divisions in the government and Congress. It can even pit the CM and the party against the two dominant communities.
While Vokkaligas are a dominant force in the Old Mysuru region, Lingayat community leaders claim they are the deciding factor in around 154 out of 224 assembly segments. Now, with the BJP trying to reconsolidate its support base among the Lingayats by appointing former CM BS Yediyurappa’s son BY Vijayendra as its state unit president, the Congress will not do anything that would even send a wrong message to the community.

In 2018, Siddaramaiah and Congress’ stand on separate religious status for Lingayats backfired as it was perceived as a divisive strategy. This time around, the party is banking on its guarantee schemes to do well in the Lok Sabha polls and will tread cautiously. Karnataka being the home state of AICC president Mallikarjuna Kharge, the party is unlikely to give a free hand to state leaders to decide on sensitive issues that can jeopardise its plans for revival at the national level.

Also, the Janata Dal (Secular) and BJP have decided to go together in the Lok Sabha polls. Unlike in the assembly polls, they would be working on a strategy to avoid splitting of anti-Congress votes in the Vokkaliga heartland of Old Mysuru region.

Given the tricky situation, the Siddaramaiah government may just receive the report and refrain from any further action. That is also not a comfortable position for the CM, who will come under pressure from communities to make the report public and act on it.

Former AICC president Rahul Gandhi may be batting for the caste census at the national level. But, in Karnataka, the report is likely to put his party in a bind ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

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