Stirring The Caste Cauldron: Emboldened By Electoral Win, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah Revives Shelved 2015 Caste Survey
The previous Congress government had beat a hasty retreat following a backlash over leaked portions of the survey that indicated that the percentage of dominant castes, such as the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, was not as high as was conventionally believed.
In a move likely to stir up the caste cauldron in the state, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said on Wednesday that the newly-elected Congress government will accept the report of the 2015 caste survey.
The CM said that his government is planning to reconfigure the reservation matrix in the state based on the report.
"The caste-wise survey will provide necessary data to make appropriate decisions about facilities to be provided to the people. The survey was conducted to gather scientific and accurate information, which is essential for providing reservation and other facilities," Siddaramaiah told a delegation of the Karnataka Shoshita Vargagala Mahakuta.
"Previous governments were reluctant to accept the report. Now, our government will accept the report. Based on facts, basic facilities will be provided to people in education, employment and industry," the CM had noted earlier.
"Caste census will help government take appropriate decisions on facilities, including the quantum of reservation, to castes and communities," the CM said in a tweet.
Caste Census in 2015
The Social and Educational Survey, commonly referred to as the "Caste Census", was conducted in 2015 when Siddaramaiah was the Chief Minister during the previous Congress regime.
The exercise was carried out despite strident opposition from politically influential Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities.
The survey was conducted by Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes (KSCBC) at a cost of Rs.185 crores.
Siddaramaiah claimed that the survey was done due to the non-availability of data on the demographic profile of the Backward Classes (BCs). The survey is said to have gathered information about the social, economic, educational status of all residents of the State. The survey questions required the respondents to state their caste and sub-caste,
While the survey report was submitted to the government, it has not either been tabled in the Cabinet or the Legislative Assembly, as the CM Siddaramaiah and the Congress party feared potential political repercussions.
The Congress government beat a hasty retreat following a backlash over leaked portions of the survey that indicated that the percentage of dominant castes, such as the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, was not as high as was conventionally believed.
Both the influential Veerashaiva Mahasabha and Vokkaligara Sangha (the leading representative organisation of the Vokkaliga community) came out strongly against the caste census. Several members of Siddaramaiah's cabinet, too, opposed publishing the findings of the survey.
Siddaramaiah has been an advocate of a caste survey since 2005 when he was Deputy Chief Minister in the Janata Dal (Secular) government.
After his defection from Janata Dal to Congress, Siddaramaiah has tried to enhance his political stature by constantly projecting himself as the 'undisputed leader' of a social coalition in Karnataka broadly termed AHINDA, an acronym for the Kannada words Alpasankhyataru (Minorities), Hindulidavaru (Backward Classes) and Dalitaru (Dalits). He has assiduously cultivated various organisations, activists and leaders belonging to this grouping.
Siddaramaiah belongs to the Kuruba caste, the fourth largest social bloc in the State after Lingayats, Vokkaliga and Muslims.
Siddaramaiah and his supporters have long believed that the caste survey will help them politically as it tool to undermine the clout wielded by Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities.
As per conventional estimates, Lingayats constitute 17 per cent of the state population, while Vokkaligas account for 15 per cent. These figures are contested since there has been no caste-based census in India since 1931.
According to those privy to theshelved caste survey, the combined population of Lingayats (mainly influential in northern Karnataka) and Vokkaligas (mainly concentrated in 11 districts in Old Mysore region and other regions of south Karnataka) between 25 and 28 per cent of the state's population.
AHINDA ideologues claim that Lingayats and Vokkaligas, thanks to their powerful social and economic strength, achieve political representation at all levels that far exceed their demographic strength.
In the recently-concluded concluded state assembly elections, 55 Lingayats (almost 25% of the assembly strength) and 44 Vokkaligas were elected to the state assembly.
In the 2018 state assembly,100 out of 224 legislators across parties were from the two dominant communities (58 Lingayat MLAs, 42 Vokkaligas)
Out of Karnataka's 23 chief ministers so far, 16 of them have been from the Lingayat and Vokkaliga community.
BJP government decisions to be rolled back?
In the run-up to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections, the then-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government abolished religion-based reservation in the state by scrapping the 4 per cent reservation given to Muslims in Karnataka under 2B of Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. It distributed it to two politically influential communities — Veerashaiva-Lingayats and Vokkaligas — at 2 per cent each in jobs and admissions in educational institutions.
Despite recasting the reservation matrix, the Bommai government kept the overall 32 per cent reservation to backward communities (OBCs) in the state.
In October 2022, state governor Thawarchand Gehlot approved an ordinance by the Bommai-led government to hike the reservation for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities. Reservation for SC was increased from 15 to 17 per cent and ST from 3 to 7 per cent.
After the increase in quota for SC/ST, OBCs have a quota of 32 per cent (for 207 castes spread across five categories), SCs have a quota of 17 per cent for 101 castes, and STs have a quota of 7 per cent (for 50 tribes in the state).
On March 31. Bommai-led BJP also notified the rules regarding the EWS quota. The EWS quota was introduced by PM Narendra Modi-led NDA government through a constitutional amendment in January 2019.
The series of moves by Bommai government in the run-up to the state assembly elections came amid various communities ratcheting up demand to either hike reservation or alter their reservation status in Karnataka.
Flaying the BJP-led Karnataka government for its decision to scrap reservation for Muslims under Category 2B in the OBC list, the Congress had declared that it would restore the quota to the minority community.
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