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Karnataka caste census may open Pandora’s Box

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-03-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru: Karnataka is close to releasing the results of a controversial caste census it conducted nearly two years ago, a move that could disturb the delicate caste equations in the state.

The Rs147 crore-exercise was completed in around 45 days, employing 160,000 people and covering 13.5 million households. It posed 55 questions to determine the number of castes, composition, reservation status and benefits received, and social, political and economic standing.

“The caste census will be released next month. There were delays but this time it will be released. We are waiting for by-elections to get over,” backward classes minister H. Anjaneya told Mint, referring to the 9 April by-elections in Nanjangud and Gundlupet constituencies.

Senior politicians like former chief minister Jagadish Shettar of the BJP said the report may not be released anytime soon as the findings may spark differences within the Congress government where caste equations play a role bigger than political affiliation.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah may release the report closer to the 2018 elections to please his supporters among minorities, backward classes and Dalits collectively called Ahinda, Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnataka University, Dharwad said. Currently, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president and chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat, while Janata Dal (Secular) is led by Vokkaligas.

Lingayats and Vokkaligas—the two communities that have always claimed to be the largest and second largest caste groups in the state—disputed the findings when numbers purportedly leaked from the census appeared in the media in April last year. They have warned of state-wide protests if the numbers turn out to be true.

The government has denied the authenticity of the leaked numbers, which estimated Lingayat population at below 10% from around 17-18% according to the state backward classes welfare department, and Vokkaliga from around 14% to around 8%, making the Dalits the single biggest group at around 24%. Nearly 55% of Karnataka’s population is from the backward classes. The numbers will help Siddaramaiah increase caste-based reservations from 50% to 72%.

But their argument falls on weak grounds as there is no empirical data to back their dominant status claim as the last caste census was conducted in 1931.

H. Kantharaja, chairman, Karnataka state commission for backward classes, said many communities have arrived at figures by adding 2.2% to the estimates every 10 years, and added truly deserving must get reservation rights as it is the Constitution that guarantees it to them. “The purpose of the survey is not to perpetuate the caste system or continue it but to fill up the gap between inequalities between castes,” he said.

Before the survey began, there were 1,361 caste groups in Karnataka, a number that is expected to rise.

Ramaswamy at Karnataka University said the Congress continues to deploy “old style politics” with social engineering as it has no alternative policy to woo backward classes other than the former chief minister Devaraj Urs style of politics. Urs ushered in pro-poor and social justice policies during his two terms as chief minister of Karnataka.

“Ahinda is a conglomeration of OBCs without a charted path and is blind to its goal,” Ramaswamy said, adding the BJP has also made OBCs central to its election themes.

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