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Will the Congress Caste Card counter Modi & Hindutva?

5/2/2018

Bengaluru/Belgaum, In the run up to the high stakes involved in May 12 Karnataka assembly elections, while some observers are bewildered at the greater influence of casteism in a progressive state like Karnataka, many squarely blame Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for strengthening the same. The Congress leaders deny the charge outright but insiders say strategists in the country’s oldest party believe that only caste idiom can effectively fight the pro-Hindutva politics of BJP and “can check” the popularity graph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Experts also say Mr Siddaramaiah’s caste-engineering is likely to hurt BJP’s interest the most. Prof Omkara Kakade of Vijayapura says, “Chief Minister has really hit the BJP where it matters the most – the Lingayat vote share. The Lingayats have always voted toeing the caste line, but the division of Lingayats due to minority caste move will certainly fetch him sizeable Lingayat votes”. “The compulsion of ‘winning’ has made Congress leadership desperate. The grand old party is in power in only three states– Punjab, Mizoram and poll-bound Karnataka. The country’s oldest party will totally lose its relevance despite a favourable media if they lose out Karnataka,” says BJP corporator at Belgaum Deepak Jamkhandi. Mr Jamkhandi and others thus say it is such a challenging situation that has made Congress bank heavily on caste or so called “social engineering”. Agreeing with him, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar told UNI: “Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s politics in last five years has actually freshly strengthened the roots of casteism in Karnataka”. Endorsing them in a broader scale, Prime Minister Modi in his election rally at Chikkodi on Tuesday accused the Congress of trying to divide the nation by bringing in the debate on caste-based matters like the Lingayats and Dalits. A Belgaum-based educationist Sanjay Prasanna tries to analyse the Congress strategy. “Despite Malikarjun Kharge, M Veerappa Moily and G. Paremeshwara factors, the Congress agreed to make Siddaramaiah the captain of the ship till the polls more due to the caste factor. Krubas make hardly about 8-9 per cent of the electorate in the state. But the community identity gives a big advantage to the Chief Minister”. A former Chief Minister has stated that elections in karnataka is fought on caste basis. Speaking in similar vein, Sujay Gautam, a resident of Hubli says, “The Krubas are present across the state and thus Siddaramaiah is more known by caste than his five years of performance or failure. This is the political reality”. Hubli-based trader Irfaan Zameer seems to agree with this view but says only caste-divisions among Hindus can help Congress fight BJP’s “most potent tool - the political polarisation among Hindus”. Congress general secretary in-charge Karnataka K C Venugupal denies that the Congress party’s sole electoral strategy was to manage the caste well. “We have not managed the castes as is being made out,” says Mr Venugopal, who also argued that the Congress has always banked on and promoted inclusive development as such is the essence of the ‘Congress philosophy’. But citizens like Irfaan Zameer are not quite happy that the caste-politics has returned with vengeance in Karnataka – one of the progressive states with high literacy rate. The importance of caste is vital across the state even in general category assembly segments, but it is more pronounced in SC reserved seats like Mudhol, C V Raman Nagar, Mahadevapura, Nagthan, Dharwad East, Hadaggali, Haveri, Lingsugur and many more. “The caste is a menace in states like UP and Bihar. Why it’s part of a five-star debate in Bengaluru too,” asks Mr Zameer.The ethnic divisions are so strong that even tribals are divided. Thus in Bellary region, Myasabeda sub-tribe among Nayakas will be confronting or likely to oppose leaders from Oorubeda sub-tribe, also a constituent of Nayaks. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the vocal BJP lawmaker, says Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has for long thrived only with his caste equations – a legacy of his Janata Dal days. “Siddaramaiah’s social engineering means appease and reach out to Muslims and also push people from his own Kruba community,” he says adding even after he became Chief Minister, all people belonging to his community were given key positions. Mr Chandrasekhar says Siddaramaiah’s caste-focus approach came into the fore when just before months for the polls, he tried to divide the Lingayats. However, Prof Kakade, a known analyst of Lingayat politics, says he is cautions about Lingayats swing towards Congress. “In some pockets like Vijayapura and Badami, there is also a risk that Lingayat consolidation will harm Congress”. In another plane, the caste politics is also a forte of the Janata Dal (S) led by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda as his party essentially draws strength from Vokkaliga caste. The JD(S) is not apologetic about it. “Caste is the reality of Indian politics. Karnataka is no exception,” says sitting JD(S) MLA Shivalinge Gowda at Arsikere in Hassan region. Mr Gowda says the BJP "too" has adhered to the politics of division and thus projected its former Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, despite corruption bogey, as their Chief Ministerial face just because Mr Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat. The BJP – for its part – feels the party is optimistic of holding on to the traditional support base among upper castes especially Brahmins and Lingayats.

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