Karnataka-Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar
The Congress government led by Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar is treading cautiously in Karnataka as it draws up a social-engineering strategy ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year

Karnataka caste arithmetic: Congress seeks to learn from BJP's errors

With less than a year for LS polls, grand old party needs to strike the right social engineering balance

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Learning from the erstwhile BJP government’s mistakes, the Congress in Karnataka is taking cautious steps as it draws up its social-engineering strategy with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress has resolved to win at least 20 of the 27 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka but realises that it needs to have everything right before plunging into what is expected to be an intense battle next year. Its manifesto for the Assembly polls in May 2023 vowed to increase the reservation for SC/ST, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and others from the current 50 to 75 per cent, besides restoring the 4 per cent Muslim quota scrapped by the BJP.

The Congress has learned a lesson from the ousted BJP government in Karnataka, whose social engineering failed, says CS Dwarakanath, head of Congress' social justice wing.

Data collection

Now, the Siddaramaiah government is set to receive a socio-educational survey report from the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes (KSCBC).

The Secretary of the Backward Classes Welfare Department has sought a report based on data collected by the Kantharaj Commission during a socio-educational survey done in 2015.

The Congress feels that its good showing in the Assembly polls was due to its promise to break the 50 per cent ceiling in reservation besides increasing reservation for all castes and communities based on their population.

The BJP had hiked the quotas for Vokkaligas, Lingayats and SC/ST communities ahead of the Assembly elections to expand its base. But its skewed social engineering resulted in the party losing 39 of the 51 SC/ST seats in Karnataka. The Congress says it wants to act on calibrated data.

On October 24, 2022, Karnataka governor Thawarchand Gehlot approved an ordinance to hike the quota of the SC and ST communities in the jobs and educational sector from 15 to 17 per cent for SCs and from 3 to 7 per cent for STs.

Constitutional amendment

Although the bill was passed in the Assembly with the support of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), the latter asked wanted the Centre to bring an amendment to include it in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution.

Chaluvadi Narayanaswamy, a BJP member of the Legislative Council, told The Federal: “As the Bill has been passed in both the houses, it is being implemented in letter and spirit.” Its provisions can only be changed by bringing amendments.

But the failure to bring a constitutional amendment, to help the Bill to breach the 50 per cent ceiling on overall reservation, offered enough strength for Congress and JD (S) to attack BJP’s stated concern for Dalits.

In what turned out to be embarrassing to the BJP, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Abbaiah Narayanaswamy told the Lok Sabha that there was no proposal to increase reservation beyond the 50 per cent ceiling.

This created suspicion in the minds of SC and ST communities about the real intentions of the BJP, harming it in the Assembly elections.

Muslim quota

At the same time, succumbing to pressure from both the dominant communities, the BJP enhanced reservation for the Lingayats and Vokkaligas by 2 per cent each after scrapping 4 per cent reservation for Muslims.

The Supreme Court questioned the rationale behind withdrawing reservations accorded to the Muslim community under the 2B Backward Classes category, which was in place since 1994.

The BJP government moved the Muslim community to the Economically Weaker Section category, forcing Muslims to compete with other groups including Brahmins and Jains.

A few days before the Assembly polls, the Supreme Court observed that the decision to scrap reservation for Muslims appeared to be based on “fallacious assumptions”. The case was adjourned to July after the BJP government pledged not implement the new reservation quota.

“Now the issue of withdrawing 4 per cent reservation to the Muslim community is under judicial scrutiny and it will be sub-judice to comment on it,” said BJP’s Narayanaswamy.

A senior BJP leader and former minister in the Basavaraj Bommai government who did not want to be quoted by name admitted that the party’s failure to implement its caste matrix strategy was likely to hamper its prospects in the Lok Sabha battle.

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