K’taka caste census report: Congress govt’s decision may stir debate, threaten party unity

Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s announcement to accept a report of the socio-economic survey known as caste census is likely to stir a debate in the state as the contents might change the caste calculations.

Political circles have opined that the newly-elected Congress government is opening a Pandora’s Box.

With the announcement, the report prepared at a cost of Rs 162 crore languishing for eight years will now be accepted by the government.

Fearing the consequences, the previous governments headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy, B.S. Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai did not accept the report throughout their tenure.

However, Chief Minister Siddramaiah had now stated that his government would accept the report.

“When we were in power previously, our government had conducted socio-economic surveys through permanent backward classes commission at a cost of Rs 162 crore. Previous governments hesitated to receive the survey report. Our government will receive the report. Necessary facilities shall be provided in different sectors like education, employment, business based on the facts,” the Chief Minister declared.

The report has remained a mystery due to the politics surrounding it.

According to leaked findings of the report, Lingayats and Vokkaligas are outnumbered by Dalits and Muslims.

The findings went on to become sensational news in the state and triggered a huge controversy. Lingayats and Vokkaligas who played an important role solely by the numbers, faced the challenge of politically becoming not so relevant.

Politics in Karnataka is caste driven and caste groups, caste seers, especially from Lingayat, Vokkaliga and Kuruba communities play an important role in elections. The seers also wield greater influence on the successive governments.

The 2014 Siddaramaiah-government in Karnataka had ordered for the survey. It maintained that the findings would enable it to take decisions on reservations and quotas in the Other Backward Communities (OBC) category.

The humongous task of conducting a survey of 1.6 crore households in Karnataka was completed. As many as 1.6 lakh personnel went door to door across the state and the task was completed with the government spending Rs 169 crore. Bharat Electronics limited was given the task of digitizing the work.

The Karnataka State Backward Classes Commission Chairperson H. Kantharaj monitored the survey.

Somehow, the report was not presented before the cabinet and sources say it is lying with the member secretary of the commission. Kantha Raju’s tenure ended in 2019 and later the commission was headed by Jayaprakash Hegde.

Insiders explain that the politicians belonging to Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities from all three political parties want to bury the report.

Siddaramaiah, who got the survey done for the first time in the country since 1935, was not able to accept and reveal the findings of the report.

After Siddaramaiah, H.D. Kumaraswamy of JD (S)became the chief minister and the coalition government did not bother to look into the issue. Congress leaders started vehemently demanding for making the findings of caste survey public when BJP grabbed power ensuring the collapse of coalition government of Congress and JD (S).

Siddaramaiah, the then leader of Opposition, charged and challenged BJP to make the caste census public. He also attacked Kumaraswamy.

Sources explain that it is going to be a litmus test for the party to bring consensus between the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar over the issue.

During the election campaign, Siddaramaiah remained tight-lipped about the report and his sudden announcement is likely to be questioned within the Congress party.

The party will also discuss the repercussions of the report in upcoming Lok Sabha elections, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Zilla and Taluk Panchayat elections in the state.

Progressive thinkers and political experts opine that the government’s programme which cost Rs 168 crore to the exchequer is being victim of politicking.

Former Chairperson of the Commission, C.S. Dwarakanath has demanded several times that since a huge amount was spent on the caste census, the report should be made public.

Siddaramaiah had earlier accused the BJP of deliberately not accepting the report.

But the BJP maintains that the issue is being raised only to get political mileage.

Siddaramaiah while making the announcement of accepting the census report stated, the inequalities imposed on those who denied opportunities in the society from the times of history have to be ironed out.

“They need to be given justice and for this purpose the Congress is going to accept the caste census report,” he underlined.

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