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Karnataka polls: BJP banks on its caste arithmetic

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Bengaluru: In a bid to ensure support from marginalised castes, the BJP has announced the names of 78 candidates belonging to OBC and Dalit communities in its first list for May 10 assembly elections in Karnataka.

The party has fielded 32 candidates belonging to OBCs, and another 30 and 16 candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes respectively.

There certainly seems to be an electoral strategy which has been driven by a mantra that a varied coalition of OBC and Dalit votes helps the party win elections.

This strategy catapulted Narendra Modi to become one of India’s most powerful prime ministers after winning the last two general elections.

Prior to giving tickets to candidates of these communities, the Basavaraj Bommai government in Karnataka gave their community people a greater share of the reservation pie.

In a clever move, the BJP shifted Muslims from OBC category to the category of Economically Weaker Section to benefit the non-dominant Panchamsali Lingayats, a sub-caste of Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, which forms a major chunk of the Lingayat population.

This was the same strategy that the BJP successfully adopted in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections by giving non-Yadavs (non-dominant OBC) a greater share of the reservation pie.

In the last 15 years, the BJP has garnered the votes of non-dominant OBCs like Billavas, Mogaveeras, Vishwakarmas, Kolis and others, who were hardcore Congress voters in Karnataka.

So, the BJP is aware of the importance of OBCs who hold the key to stall the Congress march in the state.

In fact, Congress was wiped out across India, except Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh Post-Emergency, only because the OBCs, minorities and SC/STs firmly stood by the grand old party.

In 1983, the Congress lost power for the first time in Karnataka after undisputed OBC messiah S Bangarappa quit the party to lead the newly formed Karnataka Kranti Ranga, which split OBC votes. But the Congress in 1989, romped home by winning 181 seats in the 224-member house after OBCs voted for it.

In return, the Congress rewarded the community with two chief ministers – Bangarappa and Veerappa Moily – in the same term.

In the 2013 elections, Siddaramaiah became the chief minister after his experiment to bring OBCs, Muslims, and SC/STs under one umbrella called Ahinda, worked.

The other factor that helped Siddaramaiah was BS Yediyurappa’s KJP, which took 10 percent of the votes, mostly Lingayat, dealing a body blow to the BJP, which he quit for a brief period.

The BJP is also aware of the importance of non-dominant SC and ST voters. In October 2022, Karnataka Governor Thawarchand Gehlot approved an ordinance by the Bommai government to hike the reservation for SC and ST communities.

Reservation for SC was increased from 15 to 17 percent and ST from 3 to 7 percent.

Subsequently, the Bommai cabinet approved the internal quota that is expected to do justice to the marginalised SC (Left) communities, which are unable to fight it out with dominant SC communities.

Among the ‘untouchables’, the SC (Left) – Madiga, Adi Dravida and Bambi get 6 per cent reservation and SC (Right) which includes Adi Karnataka Holeya and Chalavadi get 5.5 per cent.

Among the ‘touchables’, Banjara, Bhovi, Koracha and Korama get 4.5 per cent and Are Alemari and Alemari (nomads) get the remaining one percent.

The revised policy has taken the reservation tally in Karnataka to 56 per cent- SC 17 per cent, ST – 7 per cent and OBC 32 per cent, against the 50 per cent cap imposed by the Supreme Court.

However, the BJP government is relying on the Centre to pass an amendment justifying the hike and to give it legal sanctity.

The changes in reservation structure made by the BJP and giving these communities a good political representation is certainly a political masterstroke to win their support ahead of the May 10 elections.

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