It’s not often that politicians from different parties who are at dagger drawn indulge in a bonhomie for a common purpose.
In Karnataka, the ruling BJP’s K S Eshwarappa, a leader from the Backward Class community, joined former chief minister and Opposition Congress leader Siddaramaiah’s call to the state government to make the social and educational survey (caste census data) public.
Eshwarappa, who is the minister for rural development and panchayati raj in the current government, said at a meeting that he will take the matter up with the chief minister.
In 2015, the Siddaramaiah government had spent nearly Rs 160 crore to conduct caste-based census in Karnataka. The state Backward Class commission was entrusted with the responsibility to conduct the survey.
Siddaramaiah claimed that the report was not ready when the state went for elections in 2018, and, hence, could not be implemented. But the successive governments, the coalition government led by the JD(S) and Congress and now the BJP, have not acted on it, he said. “There was no question of accepting the report when I was the CM as it was not ready then,” he had said earlier this month.
It is however, believed that the report is not being made public as it could affect party politics and change the current presumptions about the dominant caste in the state. The idea behind the survey was to help the government allocate benefits as per the details provided by the results.
A caste census done in 2011 at the all-India level remains unreleased. But the Centre in September made it clear that the report will not be made public.
In Karnataka, the caste census data has become a hot potato for the government to handle even as a rift emerges within the BJP with demands for replacing Yediyurappa, who hails from the Lingayat community, growing.
A leaked report on the Census data in 2016 said that the Lingayat/Veerashivas constituted merely 9.65 per cent of the state’s population, while Vokkaligas (Gowdas) made up 8.01 per cent. The assumption at present is that Lingayat/Veerashiva population is 15.3 per cent and Vokkaligas are 10.8 percent.
After the leak, many leaders had then alleged that the Siddaramaiah government had tweaked the data for political benefit. The state neither confirmed nor dismissed the leaked report. The Akhila Bharatiya Veerashaiva Mahasabha dubbed the survey “unscientific” and “incomplete”. The Backward Class commission does not have a chairperson now. Hence, the report would remain in cold storage till a person is appointed to the post.
Both Siddaramaiah and Eshwarappa also demanded that their community Kuruba should be included in the Schedule Tribes list. Kurubas are classified as different groups in different districts and they enjoy the ST status only in Kalaburagi, Yadgir and Bidar where they are classified as Gonds. They are also classified as STs in Kogadu as Jenu Kuruba and Kadu Kuruba. The community wants the ST status across the state. Kurubas (all groups) are estimated to represent 8.65 per cent of the state’s population.
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If the Kurubas are included in the ST list, it could unsettle the Valimiki community, which is currently considered a strong group among STs.
“If the government refuses to accept the report, Karnataka State Backward Castes Federation members will be forced to hit the streets,” Siddaramaiah said. He said the BJP government should accept the report and put it up for discussion in the Assembly.