Caste-dominated politics still rule in IT land Karnataka (Letter from Bangalore)

By V.S. Karnic, IANS
Monday, November 22, 2010

BANGALORE - The southern Indian state of Karnataka is a land of contradictions - a leader in education, banking, science and technology but backward-looking in politics dominated by caste equations.

In the last 10 years, its capital, Bangalore has raced to become a brand known across the world for new economy led by information technology, and people in smaller towns across the state too are trying to hard to catch up with brand Bangalore. Cities like Mysore, Shimoga and Hubli - Tier II cities in officialese- are marketing themselves as new IT destinations.

The politics, however, does not show any signs of growing beyond caste calculations to keep pace with the times, and like many other Indian states, one or two caste groups have had upper hand in ruling the state.

The two caste groups that have dominated the political scene are Lingayats and Vokkaligas, constituting 18 and 17 percent of the state’s around 60 million population (according to 2001 census).

The main occupation of both the caste groups is agriculture. They have also become major players in the educational field, running institutions from kindergarten to engineering and medicine.

The dominance of the two castes is shown by the number of chief ministers from the groups since Independence.

Of the 19 chief ministers, eight were Lingayats, including the present B.S. Yeddyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and four were Vokkaligas. The remaining seven belonged to other castes.

Of the eight Lingayats, six belonged to the Congress, one to the Janata Dal and one BJP. Of the four Vokkaliga chief ministers, two were from Congress, one from the Janata Dal and another from the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S).

After 1990, the Lingayats are generally believed to have moved away from the Congress towards the BJP, upset at the sacking of Veerendra Patil as chief minister by then Congress chief Rajiv Gandhi.

In the last 20 years, the only Lingayat chief minister other than Yeddyurappa was J. H. Patel of the Janata Dal.

The Lingayat vote for BJP was consolidated in the 2008 assembly polls held after the collapse of JD-S/BJP coalition. JD-S president H. D. Deve Gowda and his son H. D. Kumaraswamy, who are Vokkaligas, went back on their word to vacate the chief minister’s post to Yeddyrauppa in 2007.

Kumarswamy had become chief minister with the help of the BJP in 2006. As per the understanding, he was to make way of Yeddyurappa after 20 months in power.

Yeddyurappa and BJP exploited the JD-S’ “betrayal” as a “conspiracy” against Lingayats and bagged 110 seats in the 225-member assembly.

Yeddyurappa became BJP’s first chief minister in south India in May 2008 with the help of five Independents to achieve majority in the house.

Now the same caste equation is a stumbling block for BJP to act against Yeddyurappa. The chief minister has been facing slew of charges of prime land allotment to his kin, to people who invested in his two sons business ventures and other dealings by the two.

The BJP not only does not have a leader with all-Karnataka appeal, it does not have any one even from the Lingayat community who can match Yeddyurappa’s appeal to the caste group.

The only bright aspect for the battered party in Karnataka, ironically, is the worse shape the Congress and the JD-S are in.

The JD-S has lost much of credibility, in spite of its taking a lead in releasing documents alleging illegal deals by Yeddyurappa.

The Congress remains demoralised following electoral debacles starting with losing power in the 2004 assembly polls. It is also divided on caste basis with Lingayat leaders often meeting among themselves to publicly express that the community remains neglected by the party.

Still, it is a no-win situation for BJP. If Yeddyurappa continues as chief minister, it will weaken the BJP’s battle against corruption in the Congress-led central government.

In the event of Yeddyurappa being thrown out, the party does not know how it will fare in the next assembly polls.

As for Karnataka, the political instability, which has been haunting it since 2004, looks set to continue for some years to come.

Filed under: Politics

will not be displayed