Caste dynamics and Karnataka’s shifting political fault lines
Whatever may be the place of caste in political dynamics elsewhere in India, there is no gainsaying its significance in Karnataka, even going back to pre-independence days. Alongside caste, a heightened focus on linguistic identity and its associations, and the land question form the grid of political life in the state. The Congress held power in the state factoring in these three elements and the kind of domination-subordination they beget. The tensions and contentions that informed this axis has been the springboard of reenvisaging political change in the state for long
The Lingayat formation in the state enjoyed certain key advantages in relating itself to the regional identity of Karnataka: It was the largest caste-bloc, was highly institutionalised through the system of mathas, claimed a rich literary legacy as its cultural capital, had its presence across the state, and was at the forefront of the national movement. Once the Lingayats were marginalised by Devaraj Urs, a former CM, through a set of daring political and social interventions, welding the backward castes, Dalits and minorities into an unsteady political bloc, there emerged a political alliance between them and the Vokkaligas, the other contender on the scene for political dominance.
The Vokkaligas were a landed community, pre-eminently based in the southern part of the state where they outnumbered the Lingayats, deeply plural in their beliefs and practices, and much caught in the idiom of the folk and community. While the anti-Congressism of this bloc attracted elements from other castes and communities, there was no doubt regarding the nature of dominance that the Lingayats and Vokkaligas exercised. Given the contention within this bloc, Lingayats soon shifted allegiance to the BJP to consolidate their hold over the state.
While the anti-Congressism of a section of the Vokkaligas has moved them closer to the BJP, the dominant section of this formation, particularly under the leadership of Deve Gowda, sought to promote a third alternative by laying stress on the village, agriculture and irrigation, local governance and federal polity. But for a significant section of the Vokkaligas, particularly with large and lucrative land-holdings in the prosperous southern belt of the state, Deve Gowda does not seem to be the highway for prosperity and aplomb, but the BJP.
The attempt of former CM Siddaramaiah, to weld a political bloc of backward castes, minorities and Dalits, after 40 years of the experiment of Urs in this direction, had its own pitfalls. Siddaramaiah’s own caste, the Kurubas, became the anchor of this bloc, whether he wanted it or not. Significant strata among these castes and communities, thought they would be better off outside such bloc. In this context while Siddaramaiah thought that the Congress would be better off accepting the demand of a section of Lingayats for a separate religion, other Congressmen wanted to extend their outreach to the Lingayats and reassert Vokkaliga dominance.
Some of these moves kept some of the most important leaders of the Lingayats outside the government, reinforcing mistrust and unrest among them. The challenge that the Congress confronts in the state today, or for that matter Deve Gowda’s JD(S), are much more profound than the debacle that these parties have suffered at the hustings. While the BJP seems to be going strong, the ties that hold its motley social base can always snap.
Source : Times Of India