Analysis | BJP eyes bypolls to redraw caste loyalties

Karnataka Chief Minister B S. Yediyurappa. File photo

Karnataka Chief Minister B S. Yediyurappa. File photo  


Traditionally, two dominant castes — the Lingayats and Vokkaligas — have played a key role in Karnataka elections.

The ruling BJP seems keen to use the disqualification of Congress and JD(S) legislators and upcoming by-elections to 15 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka to redraw the political caste configurations in the State and expand its vote bank.

Traditionally, two dominant castes — the Lingayats and Vokkaligas — have played a key role in Karnataka elections. The BJP is now entrenched in the Lingayat community, with Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa seen as the most prominent leader.

The party is now attempting social engineering to gain the support of other backward classes (OBCs) that have traditionally remained with the Congress and its leader Siddaramaiah, and Vokkaligas, largely associated with the JD(S). Kurubas, the caste to which Leader of Opposition and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah belongs, form a dominant part of the OBC bloc in Karnataka. The OBCs and Vokkaligas largely stayed with the Congress and JD(S) in the 2013 and 2018 Assembly elections, barring some exceptions.

The bypolls could emerge as a test case for the BJP’s attempt to re-order this arrangement. For any future expansion and in fact, even to retain power, the saffron party needs to encroach on the traditional support base of the OBCs and Vokkaligas.

With Kurubas being the third major dominant caste in the State, the BJP is particularly keen to wean away the community. Three disqualified MLAs — N. Nagaraju (MTB) from Hosakote, H. Vishwanath from Hunsur and Byrathi Basavaraj from KR Puram — are all Kurubas. Another Kuruba MLA, R. Shankar has been promised the membership of the Upper House of the State Legislature as part of the BJP’s strategy to woo the community.

Though the BJP government has been talking of how it declared a public holiday on Kanakadasa Jayanthi (the birth anniversary of Bhakti saint revered by the Kurubas) and contributed for the development of Kanaka Gurupeeta at Kaginele, Mr. Siddaramaiah has so far been the face of the community. The community has consistently supported the Congress, except in a few constituencies.

The recent row over the naming of a circle in Huliyar town in Tumakuru district after saint Kanakadasa has spelt trouble for the saffron party ahead of polls. Law Minister J.C. Madhuswamy was accused of “insulting” a Kuruba seer, though a truce of sorts has now been worked out.

On the Vokkaliga front, the BJP made inroads into the JD(S) base in the 2019 general elections with a beginning in Mandya. The party had put its weight behind Independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh, who defeated the high-profile JD(S) candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.

For the upcoming byelections in KR Pet also in Mandya, disqualified JD(S) MLA Narayana Gowda is contesting on a BJP ticket. The party has also fielded S.T. Somashekar, D. Sudhakar and K. Gopaliah, all Vokkaligas in Yeshwanthpura, Chikkaballapura and Mahalaxmi Layout segments, respectively.

Interestingly, the State BJP seems to be emulating the social coalition formula adopted by the central leaders of the party in the 1990s. The national BJP then expanded its base among the OBC groups by bringing to the forefront leaders such as Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati, Vinay Katiyar, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Sushil Kumar Modi and Gopinath Munde across the Hindi belt. Similar social engineering adopted by the party in 2014 helped Narendra Modi to become the Prime Minister in 2014 as well as in 2019.

The Karnataka byelection results will be a pointer to the success of the BJP’s project to gain the support of the OBC and Vokkaliga communities.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 2:04:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/analysis-bjp-eyes-bypolls-to-redraw-caste-loyalties/article30053187.ece

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