The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald, He is also a visiting professor to a number of universities and colleges and writes for NYT. Currently, he is Bureau Chief (South) of Parliamentarian
Will it be Siddaramaiah Vs Yeddyurappa? Or Rahul Gandhi Vs Modi? Naw… come on… who are they when all that counts is caste in Karnataka? A lot is at stake for both the parties Congress and BJP in Karnataka as the state goes to polls next year. There is also the powerful regional party, headed by the father-son duo of HD Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy, the Janata Dal which can at best play the role of a party pooper. One thing is in common — all the three parties are facing internal rumblings and heart-burn at the polls is not ruled out.
In BJP, though party president Amit Shah has openly declared that Yeddyurappa will be its Chief ministerial candidate, doubts linger. BSY (as BS Yeddyurappa is known) has some cases against him pending in various courts. These range from corruption cases to denotification of lands when he was chief minister before he was sent to jail. Though he has been acquitted in some cases, there are a few others like the land denotification (he is accused of denotifying more than 280 acres of land to help the real estate sharks when he was CM) which are like the Damocles’ Sword hanging over his head.
Secondly, a relatively unknown face, Santosh, who has been an RSS apparatchik, has been given the responsibility of planning the party strategy for the polls. He is young as compared to BSY, who is inching into 75, and is seen to be a non-controversial party worker. BSY, says insiders, see Santosh as a potential threat to BSY.
As Modi brought in Yogi Adityanath from nowhere to run India’s huge state like UP, they fear that Santosh may be the dark horse in Karnataka, and this was confirmed by some legislators in Bangalore. The third issue dogging the BJP in Karnataka is factionalism. KS Eashwarappa, a former deputy chief minister and a strong backward classes leader, is a sworn enemy of BSY. Their frequent public spats are common knowledge and KSE had even planned to hold parallel party rallies in the state.
Amit Shah, during his three-day visit to the state in the last week of September, was visibly unhappy and pulled up both pro-KSE and pro – BSY leaders.
Both these local leaders and their followers had a mouthful from the national president, who firmly told them to pull up their socks and not to be under the false impression that only the Modi charisma will take them back to power.
Fourth, and more importantly, BJP has a poor social media network team and a poor public relations cell as well. This PR cell, instead of sending positive vibes to the people, has been concentrating on running down and abusing all those who are anti-BJP. This includes intellectuals like Girish Karnad, eminent writers and senior journalists. This is a cause for worry, especially for the MLAs from Bangalore. Incidentally, Bangalore and its neighbouring districts have 28 constituencies and the voters comprise a large section of educated youth who follow the social media. While the party leadership has already stated that Yeddyurappa will be the chief ministerial candidate, it is obvious that there are other leaders for whom the nomination is unacceptable.
In the Congress, there are visible differences between CM Siddaramaiah and the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, G Parameshwara. Parameshwara had ambitions of becoming the chief minister during the last elections and he had said so in many media interviews. But he lost out in the race, as he was defeated. He is a prominent Dalit face of the party and has the tacit support of leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge. Now there is some semblance of peace serving the two camps, as both have put across to the partymen that they are together in working for the victory of the party. This is after the Congress secretary in-charge of Karnataka KC Venugopal did some tough talking and took all the ministers to task for speculating about who will be the next CM after the polls.
The recent rains and the problems faced by the citizens of Bangalore have rattled the Congress high command, and through Venugopal it has conveyed a strong message that people of Bangalore are angry with the government for all the miseries they faced during and after the rains. With Bangalore almost given up, Congress is focusing on north Karnataka, which has been its bastion in the past election. Not to be left behind, BJP as also upped its ante and directed BSY himself to contest from one of the North Karnataka constituencies where the Dalits form a strong vote base. Siddaramaiah, who had for long stated that he would not be contesting any election, and that he would prefer to retire from public life, has in recent months changed his stance and has stated that he would lead the party in the elections.
Caught in between the two giants is the Janata Dal (secular). As such, of the 40 seats that the party won in the last elections, seven of the legislators have deserted the party in favour of the Congress. The first task of the JD(S) will be to at least retain the remaining 33 seats. With HD Kumaraswamy, the chief ministerial face of the party indisposed and hospitalised, it has been left to the Octogenarian Deve Gowda to keep the party’s dinner stove burning. JD (S) has been largely a caste based party and its vote banks are mainly from the Vokkaliga community. And its influence is limited to certain pockets in the state.
Being a strong opponent of BJP, Gowda will be a natural ally for Congress but will demand his pound of flesh. This was evident in the Bangalore Corporation mayoral polls this month. Though BJP is the single largest party in the corporation with nearly 110 corporators, Siddaramaiah ensured that the Mayoral post was bagged by a Congress corporator with support from Janata Dal. Of course, Gowda bargained for the deputy mayor’s post and got one of his women corporators nestled. It will be interesting to note that Siddaramaiah himself was once a JD (S)) man and quit the party when Deve Gowda preferred his son to be CM, when the opportunity came and ignored Siddu, who revolted and was expelled in 2005.
Siddaramaiah has also been cleverly playing the caste card. He keeps saying that his government would take all initiatives to increase reservation for SC/STs and other backward classes from 50 to 70 per cent. Caste census of Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes will be tabled in two months, he has assured. Siddaramaiah said on the lines of Tamil Nadu model, the state government will seek legal opinion and bring necessary amendments to increase reservation for SC/STs and OBCs based on population. He sought opposition parties’ cooperation for the same. “Tamil Nadu already has 69 per cent reservation,” he said. He is even prepared to go against the Supreme Court ruling on this issue. Dalit organisations are demanding implementation of the recommendations of the Justice AJ Sadashiva Inquiry Commission on an internal reservation to SCs and sections such as those belonging to Madar community opposing it. He said though the Supreme Court had ruled that the total reservation for SC/ST and other backward classes or special categories should not exceed 50 per cent, around 70 per cent of Karnataka’s population needs to be incorporated under reservation benefits to ensure social justice. Siddaramaiah has chosen to emulate Tamil Nadu by providing reservation to OBCs and is likely to bring legislation to this effect in the next session.
Siddaramaiah’s remedy for the party in the state is this: he wants to release soon the report of the caste census which will show that the state’s two dominant upper castes — Lingayats and Vokkaligas—account for smaller proportions of the population than previous estimates and Dalits are the single largest group.
Siddaramaiah, who belongs to the backward caste of Kurubas, believes that the revelations of the census will entitle Dalits and backward castes to enhanced reservations, more election tickets and other benefits, all of which will make them so grateful to the Congress that they will vote for the party.
The chief minister had commissioned a “socio-economic caste census” in April 2015, the first such exercise after 1931, at a cost of about Rs 150 crore. This involved dispatching some 1.3 lakh enumerators to 1.4 crore homes across Karnataka. But he has not released its report so far, partly because he was under pressure from upper caste Congress leaders and ministers, and partly because he wanted to do it closer to the 2018 election to reap the maximum advantage. The caste census is part of Siddaramaiah’s long-cherished dream of becoming the state’s unmatched “ahinda” leader. Ahinda is the Kannada acronym for Alpa sankhyatara, Hindulida, Dalit (minorities, backward castes and Dalits). For a long time now, Lingayats were believed to be up to 17 per cent of the population, and Vokkaligas, about 12 per cent and they have been cornering about half the membership of the state’s assembly and a disproportionately large number of ministers.
According to details of Siddaramaiah’s census, leaked to he media last year, Lingayats constitute only 9.8 per cent of the population and Vokkaligas, 8.2 per cent. The leak raised hackles of the two communities, who fear that the new figures will deny them the share of political power they have already usurped. In all likelihood, the accuracy of the census itself will be challenged by the affected communities. The Chairman of the Backward Classes Commission, which carried out the survey, has flatly denied the authenticity of these figures. “We ourselves do not have the numbers of people of various castes. This information is false,” the chairman, H Kantharaj has said. One of the biggest revelations of the census is that Scheduled Castes together form the single biggest bloc in the state.
In the past, when BS Yeddyurappa was dumped by the JD Secular barely a week after he assumed power, it was said it was not just a betrayal for the party, but of the entire Lingayat community.
The Lingayat community declared war against the JD-S which is headed by a Vokkaliga leader Deve Gowda, terming it as the biggest betrayal of their lives. One thing became very clear caste equations would play an important role in any Assembly election.
The BJP think-tank says they have realised their blunder during the 2004 elections when Yeddyurappa was not portrayed as the CM candidate. This resulted in several Lingayat voters staying away from the BJP. The BJP fell short of the majority mark by 23 seats. This time the party wants to capitalise on the fact that there is no other strong Lingayat leader in any other party. The BJP also plans to rely on the Brahmin votes. Siddaramaiah is an assured vote-getter in the Kuruba belt but there is a doubt whether he would make an impact on the rest of the electorate. Congress is also trying to grab a share of the Muslim votes, and plans to use the services of former Union ministers CK Jaffer Sharief and C M Ibrahim for the same. In such a scenario, it is definitely going to be Siddaramaiah Vs Yeddiyurappa. National issues or Modi or Rahul don’t matter. And it looks like the incumbent chief minister is having an upper hand as
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