Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa (BSY) stirred a hornet’s nest by announcing to set up caste-based development corporations for the “uplift of Maratha and Veerashaiva-Lingayat communities” in the state.
The Congress and the JDS, too, had created caste-based corporations in the past, but they were mostly restricted to the backward castes, socially weaker sections and religious minorities (except for Brahmins Development Board by the JDS in 2019). These very parties are now questioning the way in which the current BJP government created these boards in the state.
One, the BJP announced to create boards or corporations for particular communities ahead of the by-polls, targeting a particular vote bank. And, two, it also included the dominant Lingayat community, to which the CM belongs. The announcement has incited other dominant castes, including the Vokkaligas, to demand for a separate corporation.
The BJP created Kadu-Golla Development Board ahead of the Sira by-polls, targeting the Golla (shepherd) community of the region. The move paid dividends as the saffron party won the seat — a region dominated by the Congress and the JDS — by a margin of 13,000 votes. Encouraged by the response, the BJP has now announced the creation of boards for Marathas and Lingayats, targeting the upcoming by-elections in Basavakalyan and Maski in north Karnataka.
The Basavakalayan seat fell vacant following the death of Congress MLA Narayana Gowda. The Maski by-election was necessitated after the election commission (EC) withheld the last polls due to malpractices.
Over the years, at least 13 such caste/religion-based boards have been established by various governments, and the current government added two more to the list. (see list)
Caste based corporations in Karnataka
1. Dr. BR Ambedkar (SC/ST) Development Corporation Ltd
2. Karnataka Vishwakarma Communities Development Corporation Ltd
3. Karnataka Arya Vaishya Development Corporation Ltd
4. D. Devaraja Urs Backward Classes Development Corporation Ltd
5. Karnataka Maharshi Valmiki Scheduled Tribes Development Corporation Ltd
6. Karnataka Vishwakarma Communities Development Corporation Ltd
7. Karnataka Brahmins Development Board
8. Karnataka Tanda Development Corporation for Banjaras (tribal group)
9. Karnataka Bhovi Development Corporation Ltd
10. Babu Jagjivan Ram Madiga Development Corporation Ltd (Madigas-SC)
11. Nijasharana Ambigara Chowdaiah Development Corporation
12. Karnataka Adijambhava Development Corporation (artisans and blacksmiths)
13. Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation Limited
14. Karnataka Maratha Development Board (proposed)
15. Karnataka Veerashaiva-Lingayat Development Board (proposed)
It is said that Chief Minister Y S Yediyurappa (BSY) was under constant pressure from legislators within his party to create such boards and corporations so that they could head them as the state allocates considerable share in the budget to these corporations.
With its victory in the recent election, the strength of the BJP has risen to 118 in the 225-member Assembly (two vacant seats). Considering the party is in a thin majority with just six seats more than the halfway mark, legislators often put pressure on the government and assert their dominance.
To placate the MLAs complaining about being ignored by the party, the Chief Minister in July announced the appointment of 24 BJP legislators as chairpersons to various development boards and corporations. However, within hours, many rejected the portfolios considering the money allocated to those boards were less and they wished to head bigger divisions.
BSY had to reallocate some of them again, as the pressure also came from a rebel MLA who had helped him come to power in the state.
Political leaders from particular castes, across parties, are divided on the issue. While some opposed the way BJP created these boards, others demanded reservation (in jobs and education) benefits that created boards and corporations.
Siddaganga Mutt (Lingayat mutt) seer Siddalinga Swamiji said the government’s decision was “unwarranted” and setting up the corporations for each and every community will not see an end if all communities demand such bodies. “The government should uplift those socially and economically backward, cutting across castes,” he had said.
The CM’s office (CMO), however, justified the decision to create a board for the dominant caste (Lingayats), which is said to constitute 16% of the state population (unofficial figure). The CMO said many of them are socio-economically backward and there was a pressing need to do something for them.
Speaking to The Federal, Priyank Kharge, a second-rung Dalit Congress leader, said, “The Congress is not opposed to the idea of creation of boards as every community will have people with poor background, but true justice can be done by allocating funds and starting schemes.
“The BJP is trying to create these boards for appeasement. We only demand justice be done and funds be allocated in a right way so that people at the bottom of the pyramid get benefits,” Kharge said. “That said, in every community, be it the Lingayats, Brahmins or any backward castes, there are people from poor economic background. We are not against their uplift.”
Even after setting up of such boards and corporations in the past, the ground reality hasn’t changed much for the needy and the schemes haven’t achieved their purpose.
In the 2020-21 budget, besides allocating ₹26,930 crore for the welfare of the community of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the CM also announced to allocate ₹125 crore to various caste-based boards and corporations — ₹10 crore for Uppara Development Corporation, ₹25 crore for Vishwakarma Development Corporation, ₹50 crore for Nijasharana Ambigara Chowdaiah Development Corporation, ₹10 crore for Arya Vysya Development Corporation, ₹20 crore for development of the Kumbara community and ₹10 crore for the development of the Golla community.
The ground reality, however, doesn’t indicate the allocations help much. Many of the boards haven’t received the promised funds for years. Kusuma H, coordinator of the Devaraja Urs Backward Classes Development Corporation Ltd in Gadag district, said, “Eight months into the financial year, the government hasn’t allocated a penny for development schemes for the current year even as the COVID pandemic increases the economic distress of people.”
Also, the CAG report in the past indicated that the funds allocated were not effectively used. For instance, in 2013 (during BSY’s previous tenure), an amount of ₹2.75 crore was allocated for facilitating employment opportunities to SC/ST through adventure tourism projects as the sports locations were in forest areas. Until 2017, the grant was parked in bank fixed deposits and the corporation decided to refund the grants with interest (totaling ₹3.40 crore) to the government.
One of the professors at the National Institute of Social Change said on the condition of anonymity, “The government needs to consider both economic and social development indicators, otherwise the benefits may only percolate to a certain group and lead to creation of elitism within those communities.
“Such initiatives have helped certain people over the years for sure. But it is extremely important for the government to look at caste, their social status and also the economic progress before announcing such boards/schemes. It should not end up hurting the vulnerable (caste/population) as the available resources will now be shared with upper caste and dominant caste groups,” the professor said.