Bengaluru: Months before Assembly elections, Karnataka is bracing for a caste census which could potentially change its socio-political landscape permanently and turn state politics on its head.
The census, named Socio-Economic Survey, has been completed and its findings are in the “safe custody” of the government. Several groups had opposed the ‘caste census’, claiming that the state government had no right to conduct such an exercise, following which it was renamed.
The government is hesitant to make the findings public, calling it a “state secret”.
News18 has accessed the main findings of the survey and they have the potential to end the political hegemony of the two dominant upper castes in the state — Lingayats and Vokkaligas.
Since Independence, these two major castes have been controlling the levers of power, claiming to be the ‘top communities’ in the state. The two castes have always accounted for 50% of the MP and MLA seats from the state, irrespective of the party in power. The Lingayats even want to be recognised as a separate religion, a demand backed by the Siddaramaiah government.
According to the census data seen by News18, Dalits and Muslims outnumber Lingayats and Vokkaligas. The Scheduled Castes (SCs) account for 19.5% of the total population in the state, making it the single-largest caste entity. Muslims come next, making up 16% of the population. These two groups are followed by the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, who make up 14% and 11% of the population, respectively.
Among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Kurubas alone account for 7% of the state’s population. Overall, the OBCs make up 20% of Karnataka’s population.
As per the data, SCs, STs, Muslims and Kurubas together form 47.5% of the total population, making it the strongest combination. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA (Minorities, Backward Classes and Dalits) group would be the most formidable one in the state, forcing Lingayats and Vokkaligas to play second fiddle to them.
Alarmed by the findings, both the castes have joined hands to dismiss the findings as “fabricated to suit the political interests of Siddaramaiah government”.
Speaking to News18, national secretary of Veerashaiva-Lingayat Mahasabha HM Renuka Prasanna there said is “no way” they could accept the findings of the ‘caste census’. “According to Justice Chinnappa Reddy Commission, our population was 69 lakh in 1980s. We formed 16.92% of the total population. The Havanur Commission claims it was 17.23%. How can our population be just 14% after 30 years? If our population has decreased, then the state’s total population should also have decreased proportionately. But that is not the case. We have conducted our own caste census and our population stands at 1.20 crore. We make up around 20% of the total population,” he said.
Prasanna accused the Siddaramaiah government of “fudging” actual figures to suit its interests, daring the CM to make the findings public.
The Vokkaligas are of the same opinion. A senior Vokkaliga minister in the government told News18 that the community accounts for 16% of the population, not 11%.
A Vokkaliga bureaucrat said that if the findings are true, it can end Lingayat and Vokkaliga hegemony in the state. “It is alarming. If it is true, SC, STs, Muslims and Kurubas will decide the fate of Karnataka. Our 70-year hold over the state will be weakened,” he said.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has refused to confirm the findings, saying nobody has the exact caste figures and that these were “just rumours”. “I can’t comment on this. Who has made it public? No one has released it. It is all pure speculation,” he told News18.
Karnataka BJP president BS Yeddyurappa and JD(S) state chief HD Kumaraswamy called it “yet another attempt by Siddaramaiah to divide the state on caste lines”.
According to sources, the state’s Congress government is in a dilemma on whether to release the data. Some argue that if they make the details public, the Vokkaligas and Lingayats may join hands to take on the government, and it may even lead to socio-political unrest.
Secondly, the BJP might make the growth in Muslim population an election issue.
“The caste census data will not be released before the elections. The next government may or may not release it. It is too dangerous as of now,” an official said.
According to the ‘caste census’, Dalits form 19.5% of the state’s population, tribals 5%, Muslims 16%, Kurubas 7%, rest of the OBCs 16%, Lingayats 14%, Vokkaligas 11%, Brahmins 3%, Christians 3%, Buddhists and Jains together 2%, and the others account for 4%.
Karnataka’s total population is around 6 crore. Of them, 4.90 crore are registered voters.