Karnataka Caste census is test of Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA commitment, Congress’ nationwide social justice pitch

As for Congress’ nationwide pitch of social justice, the Caste census is a reminder that charity begins at home.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Mar 02, 2024 | 5:11 PMUpdatedMar 02, 2024 | 5:11 PM

Karnataka Caste census

Nine years after it was initiated, Karnataka’s Socio-Economic and Education Survey, or simply Caste Census, has been compiled into a report and submitted to the government. For Siddaramaiah and Congress, accepting this report and re-categorising the quota based on the data will be a test of commitment to their ‘Social Justice’ pitch.

For Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, this is a full circle. Under his previous tenure, he ordered the Caste census to map every household in the state and identify the social, educational, and economic conditions of different communities, sects and castes.

In his maiden speech as Chief Minister in 2013, Siddaramaiah declared that reservation in education and jobs in Karnataka will be offered to the vulnerable and marginalised based on this survey. The census has faced stiff opposition from the word go.

Also read: Census report submitted

Clamour for quota pie

Behind the allegations of “unscientific method, inadequate data, improper collection of details, inflated numbers,” etc., lies the fear of dominant communities. Fear of their socio-economic status cutting them out on the quota pie that is meant for the truly socially, economically and educationally marginalised.

If that were to happen, it wouldn’t have been the first time. History is witness to the fact that dominant communities have always opposed socio-economic surveys meant for policy making.

The Justice LG Havanur Commission report, appointed by Devraj Urs in 1975, didn’t consider Lingayats, Muslims and Christians as backward classes. It proposed Muslims be considered a special backward group. The T Venkataswamy commission, appointed under Ramakrishna Hegde in 1984, left Lingayats and Vokkaligas out of the Backward class bracket.

The Urs government accepted the Havanur Commission report, albeit with changes to the quota and circumventing a way to include Lingayats. The Hegde government rejected the Venkataswamy Commission report, unwilling to risk the wrath of dominant Lingayats and Vokkaligas.

Also read: ‘Junk the report’

Vokkaliga, Lingayat question

If the leaked data from the submitted Caste census report carried out under Justice H Kantharaj is anything to go by, the findings also shake the foundations of the carefully crafted perception that two politically influential communities in Karnataka – Vokkaligas and Lingayats – are numerically superior.

Some estimates of the unconfirmed data leaks on the Caste census suggest Lingayats are less than 10 per cent, Vokkaligas about eight per cent, Dalits around 24 per cent and Backward Classes around 55 per cent of Karnataka’s population. This firmly puts Backward Classes communities, Muslims and Dalits as the numerically stronger bloc.

Under Karnataka’s current reservation system, eligible communities are divided into seven categories and get up to 50 percent quota. This excludes the ‘Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota of a whopping 10 percent introduced by the Union government. The SCs get 15 percent, STs three percent and 32 percent is reserved for OBCs and religious minorities.

Related: Census report divides government

The 50 percent ceiling

The 32 percent is distributed among Category 1 (4 per cent), Category 2A (15 percent), Category 2B (4 percent), 3A (including Vokkaligas and subcastes, 4 percent) and 3B (including Lingayats and 42 subcastes, 5 percent).

Except for the SC/ST and Category 1, all other categories are restricted by the “creamy layer” clause and eight lakh-rupee income limit.

Apart from religious minorities, reservation is extended to 101 scheduled castes, 50 scheduled tribes, and 207 Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

Socially forward classes or “upper castes” like Brahmins, Arya Vaishyas, and Mudaliars are covered under the EWS quota. The state’s reservation is already at the 50 percent ceiling, excluding the Centre’s push for the EWS quota.

In its last Cabinet meeting before the Karnataka Assembly elections in 2023, the Basavaraj Bommai-led-BJP government decided to do away the four percent reservation quota for the religious minority Muslims under the 2B category.

After making the 2B category redundant, the four percent reservation exclusively for Muslims was to be divided into two equal parts, and added to the existing quota for Vokkaligas and the Lingayats for whom two new reservation categories — 2C and 2D — were created during the Belagavi Assembly session in December. The move is in limbo.

Related: Andhra okays caste survey

Social justice pitch

The ball is now in Siddaramaiah’s court. He has positioned himself as a “socialist” and the champion of AHINDA- a Kannada acronym for Minorities, Backward classes and Dalits – the same communities that are said to be numerically dominant as per the Caste census.

He has derived dividends from this political capital. If he were to return the favour for all the adoration and support, accepting the Caste census and redesigning the policy may be the way forward. The report is already facing resistance from within his government and party. Lingayat and Vokkaliga leaders, cutting across party lines, have opposed the report.

The Caste census, especially after the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government made its findings public, has come as a test of commitment for Congress to its social justice pitch.

Incidentally, it was in Kolar of Karnataka, that AICC leader Rahul Gandhi made the “Jitni abadi, utna haq,” demanding adequate rights based on population. It formed the basis of Congress’ social justice pitch.

Despite several political analysts insisting that the social justice pitch caused Congress Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh in recently held Assembly elections, several party leaders believe it is the only pitch to go to Lok Sabha polls with.

Eventually, the Social Justice pitch of Congress became the foundation of Rahul Gandhi’s assurance of justice to the marginalised via Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra.

As for Congress’ nationwide pitch of social justice, the Caste census is a reminder that charity begins at home. If the party is unwilling to deliver in a state where it is in power with an absolute majority, social justice will remain a mere political rhetoric. The question is whether Siddaramaiah and Congress have the will to act on their assurance.