Congress Siddaramaiah Shivakumar
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy DK Shivakumar.

Karnataka: Caste survey issue widens Siddaramaiah-DK Shivakumar rift

The Deputy CM is not in favour of the revised report's implementation because of opposition from leaders of his own Vokkaliga community

The Congress may be aggressively promising a nationwide caste census but the issue has triggered a clear divide in Karnataka between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy DK Shivakumar (DKS).

Siddaramaiah is confident of implementing the revised caste census report by the Backward Class Commission that was prepared during his earlier stint as the chief minister in 2013-18. But DKS is not in favour of it because of opposition from leaders of his own Vokkaliga community, which along with the Lingayats fears a loss of standing if the new report is implemented.

This has pitted Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar against each other, continuing a power tussle that came out in the open after the Congress won the May Assembly elections, ending five years of BJP rule in Karnataka.

Congress sources admit that Siddaramaiah has a better grip over the issue as of now while DKSis on the backfoot.

Tussle over top post

The bad blood around the caste report adds fuel to differences between the CM and his deputy that is yet to abate. The two had buried the hatchet in May to quickly form the government in the state, but the political ruptures surface now and then. While supporters of Siddaramaiah insist that he will remain the chief minister for a full five-year term, Shivakumar’s backers say he will get to rule Karnataka after the Lok Sabha battle next year.

MLAs and ministers owing loyalty to the two camps have been periodically issuing statements supporting one or the other leader, only to draw displeasure from the Congress leadership in New Delhi.

The issue of a caste census gained prominence after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar unveiled one in his state. Since then, the Congress has decided to support a call for caste census nationwide.

Party leader Rahul Gandhi asked Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar to implement the findings of the caste report in Karnataka to know the numerical strength of various caste groups that make up the dominantly Hindu society. The exercise is considered important in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.

DKS in a spot

Naturally, in Karnataka, the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the two most influential community groups, oppose the caste survey. Shivakumar is a prominent leader of the Vokkaligas.

This has put the Deputy CM in a quandary. He can neither oppose the caste census nor openly favour it. An MLA close to Shivakumar told The Federal on the condition of anonymity that the Deputy CM will oppose the implementation of the report at least until the Lok Sabha elections are over.

“If he supports the caste census, he will lose the Vokkaliga support base. So, he is planning to convince the party high command to postpone its implementation at least till after the parliamentary elections,” the MLA said.

Before the assembly polls, Shivakumar had vowed to use political power to fight for an increase in reservation for the Vokkaliga community. This helped him earn wide support in the Old Mysuru region.

Recently, a meeting was held by Vokkaliga seers and leaders from all parties, which asked DKS not to implement the caste survey report. Under pressure, Shivakumar is said to be trying to convince Rahul as well as Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who too is from Karnataka and is a Dalit, to change their mind.

Advantage Siddaramaiah

This has also given Siddaramaiah an upper hand vis-à-vis his ambitious deputy. Congress circles admit the issue is bound to widen the gap between the two leaders.

Siddaramaiah recently held a breakfast meeting with 15 important ministers including Shivakumar. The caste report was discussed at length. “Shivakumar tried to convince the Chief Minister to postpone its implementation but the latter wanted to go ahead would help the party as well as the OBC communities,” a minister who attended the meeting told The Federal.

Siddaramaiah plans to meet the remaining 17 ministers soon to carry the discussion forward.

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