Even as the Congress high command has promised a caste census in all the states that went to polls recently, in Karnataka, where the party currently rules, the caste census report is threatening the stability of the government.
The strife over the release of the caste census report in Karnataka has created friction amongst the Congress leaders, resistance from the State’s two dominant communities, and has put the poll result determining caste dynamics in question.
Karnataka has currently deferred the release of the Socio-economic and Education Survey (caste census) report even as a part of the survey’s document has allegedly gone missing, and subsequently, the tenure of the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission has been extended to complete the report.
Amid this, reportedly, the leaked findings of the 2015 caste census have revealed that the population of Lingayat and Vokkaliga’s — the two prominent caste sects in the State — is lower than what is popularly believed to be so. According to reports, the percentages are down from 17 and 14 per cent respectively, to below 10 per cent creating fury among community members. In case the new census report too validates this fall, the current Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah, the leader of the backward classes hold over the reign would strengthen.
Narendar Pani, Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, said, “The contention in this situation is for the proportion of seat distribution, as reservations in Karnataka are not based on cut-offs and all communities get relative proportions. As the state has not had a census in a while, a certain percentage of the caste population has become acceptable, and this report will challenge that, and the dominance of Lingayat and Vokkaliga will also be challenged.”
The decision to come up with the new caste census has also irked the Congress Lingayat and Vokkaliga leaders, resulting in internal party conflicts. Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, who has been in disagreement with Siddaramaiah in the past as well, has signed off on a memorandum submitted by the Vokkaliga community leaders to not accept the caste census report. The community argues that the report is unscientific and has apprehensions over the survey methodology.
Political analyst Rajendra Chenni notes that the political class of the Congress party, at least in Karnataka, has always been defined by the caste groups and not by ideology. “This situation will possibly divide the Congress government into multiple groups, as differences have already been created. It will also trigger the need for the party high command to intervene and make some pragmatic decisions.” Additionally, CM Siddaramaiah here on faces the challenge of keeping his clan together and presenting a united front ahead of the polls, he added.
Similarly, Pani notes that going forward, as history suggests, this will result in hardline negotiations over the findings and methodologies of the report. Further, he also said that the opposition parties, the BJP and JDS, might face some setbacks as they are increasingly trying to consolidate the Lingayat and Vokkaliga vote banks.