Dominant communities' opposition to caste census report puts Cong govt in K'taka in a tight spot

Dominant communities' opposition to caste census report puts Cong govt in K'taka in a tight spot

Bengaluru, Nov 22 (PTI) Karnataka's Socio-Economic and Education Survey, popularly known as the 'caste census', is mired in controversies even before the report is submitted to the government, amid deep divisions within the ruling Congress, stiff opposition by dominant communities against its acceptance and the survey's original 'work-sheet' copy missing.

There are also indications about a delay in the submission of the survey report by Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes, with the government extending the tenure of its current Chairman, K Jayaprakash Hegde by a couple of months, until the submission of the report, originally due this month.

What has put the state government and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who on Tuesday had asserted that his decision to accept the report is unwavering, in a tight spot is Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar being a signatory to a memorandum submitted to him, requesting to reject it along with the data.

Along with Shivakumar, who hails from the dominant Vokkaliga community, the memorandum by the Vokkaligara Sangha -- the community body -- is also signed by some Ministers and Congress legislators.

Also, political stalwarts like former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, former Chief Ministers S M Krishna, D V Sadananda Gowda and H D Kumaraswamy, Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje, Leader of Opposition R Ashoka, are among several legislators from both BJP and JD(S) who have signed the memorandum.

Vokkaliga leaders at a meeting, which was also attended by Shivakumar and prominent seers from the community recently, passed a resolution urging the government to 'reject' the caste census.

The other dominant community in the state -- Lingayats -- led by All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, which is the apex body of Veerashaiva-Lingayats, has also expressed disapproval about the survey calling it unscientific and demanded conduct of a fresh survey.

Veteran Congress leader and MLA Shamanuru Shivashankarappa is the chief of the Mahasabha.

The then Siddaramaiah-led Congress government (2013-2018) in 2015 had commissioned the survey at an estimated cost of Rs 170 crore in the state, the findings of which have not been made public yet.

The state Backward Classes Commission under its then chairperson H Kantharaj was tasked with preparing a caste census report. The survey work was completed in 2018, towards the end of Siddaramaiah's first tenure as Chief Minister, but was not accepted or made public.

With pressure mounting on his government, from a certain section, to make public the state's survey, following Bihar government releasing findings of its caste survey recently, Siddaramaiah had so far been maintaining that a decision will be taken once he receives the report.

However, with strong disapproval from two dominant communities -- Lingayats and Vokkaligas -- the survey report may turn out to be a political hot potato for the government, as it may set the stage for a confrontation, with Dalits and OBCs among others demanding for it to be made public.

'The report has not yet been submitted, it has not yet come, without even seeing the report some people are opposing it. It has not come to our hands yet, once it comes we will see. Once it is given, it will be discussed in the cabinet,' Siddaramaiah told reporters here on Wednesday.

Stating that Vokkaligas have submitted the memorandum to him and that he has accepted it, he said, 'I also told them, without seeing the report, even before the report is submitted, why are you opposing.' Noting that it is the stand of the Congress to carry out a caste census, and the party is committed to it, Shivakumar said, 'But what we are saying is -- some legislators, leaders and people from the community are saying that houses were not visited for the survey, and the survey has to be done properly, in a scientific way.' Speaking to reporters here, Shivakumar said for the benefit of their communities or castes, leaders are fighting irrespective of their party differences; similarly Vokkaligas are also doing. 'What's wrong with it?' Asked about him being a signatory to the letter, he said, 'why shouldn't I (sign)? Several Ministers have attended meetings (of their respective communities), I had also attended the meeting (of Vokkaligas). We had decided together. Keeping politics aside -- it will be there within everyone -- to protect the honour and pride of their respective communities.' Meanwhile, citing Backward Classes commission's Chairman K Jayaprakash Hegde's October 2021 letter to the government about the survey's original 'work-sheet' copy missing, the opposition BJP targeted the Siddaramaiah government.

Questioning the government on 'authenticity' of the report without the original copy, senior BJP MLA Basangouda Patil Yatnal on X said, 'The government, led by Hon'ble Siddaramaiah, is orchestrating this spectacle to deceive diligent, tax-paying citizens and gain political advantage in anticipation of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Their actions appear to be motivated more by a desire to win favor with voters than a genuine commitment to social justice.

However, the commission's Chairman Hegde clarified that the survey data is hundred per cent intact and it is signed by the then Chairman (Kantharaj), members and under secretary, and it is uploaded in the system and it is safe.

'What I have said in my letter is that the original copy of the survey's work-sheet that the previous commission had prepared, is not there. I have never said the data is missing,' he said, adding that the current commission has now finalised the report based on the data, and it is getting ready for submission.

Stating that he was not aware of the original work-sheet copy missing, Siddaramaiah said Hegde had met him earlier and said that his term ends in November and requested to extend his term in case there is one or two months delay in submitting the report.

According to some analysts, successive governments have been shying away from releasing it as the findings of the survey are allegedly contrary to the 'traditional perception' of the numerical strength of various castes in Karnataka, especially the dominant Lingayats and Vokkaligas, making it a politically sticky issue.

Officials have also cited the then member-secretary of the State Commission for Backward Classes not signing the final report, as the technical hurdle that has hindered the release of the survey report earlier. PTI KSU RS KSU SS

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