Bengaluru: Three years after the previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government embarked on an ambitious caste census in Karnataka, the first in the country since 1932, the report, which was meant to challenge the dominant caste theory in the state, is still to be published and may never see the light of day.
The “Socio-Economic and Education Survey", which was carried out at a cost of Rs147 crore and involved more than 160,000 personnel reaching out door-to-door to over 13.5 million households in the state over 45 days, was expected to be released before the May 2018 assembly elections.
However, the report, which has been submitted to the previous government, may never be released, according to one Congress legislator who requested anonymity. Another person familiar with the discussions of the coordination committee meetings of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government said that the issue of the caste census has not been tabled before the forum as other bigger issues such as farm loan waiver has taken precedence.
Representative bodies of Lingayats and Vokkaligas, believed to be the two largest caste groups in the state, had threatened protests if the findings were made public. The leaders of these communities were also backed by some Congress leaders who urged the government not to release the report, especially before the assembly elections.
With the 2019 elections inching closer, the publication of the report, that would earn the ire of dominant communities, may not help the party get the votes of these groups, which it desperately needs to end the domination of the BJP, in terms of parliamentary seats from Karnataka.
Recent experiments like granting the minority religion status to the Lingayats and neglecting the Vokaligas, has cost the Congress dearly in the May assembly elections where it got only 80 seats when compared to 122 in 2013.
Dominant communities were anxious after leaked findings of the report (which the government has denied) estimated the Lingayat population to be below 10% from earlier claimed figures of 17-18% and Vokkaliga from around 14% to around 8% of the state’s population, making the Dalits the single biggest group at around 24%. Nearly 55% of Karnataka’s population is from the backward classes, a section that had helped Siddaramaiah storm to power in 2013.
The Congress, which burnt its fingers over the contentious issue of granting minority religion status to the Lingayats, would risk losing the Vokkaliga vote base to the JD(S) if the report were to, as purported, show an erosion of the population percentages of these communities, according to the leaked findings of the report. Large communities like the Vokkaligas and Lingayats fear that any document that would estimate lower population percentages would mean that it would have to part with benefits that it receives.
JD(S), led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, is seen as a party that enjoys unstinted support from the Vokkaligas, who are concentrated in southern Karnataka, the regional party’s bastion.
Siddaramaiah, one of only five non-Lingayat-non-Vokkaliga chief ministers in the political history of the state, had attempted to challenge the dominant caste theory, increase benefits to marginalised sections and help consolidate the voter base firmly behind the Congress. However, the opposition from within his own party ranks and leadership kept the Kuruba strongman from releasing the report.
Though there was no official data on the size of any specific community, experts on the subject say that many groups arrived at figures by adding 2.2% to the estimates every 10 years. The Backward Classes Welfare Department of the state, which is now backing up the data for other applications including identifying eligible beneficiaries for employment and education among other benefits, have denied that the report could never be released.
“We have apprised the chief minister of the report. Even the backward classes commission has met him over this report," said Mohammed Mohsin, secretary, backward classes welfare department.
The data, which was gathered using 55 questions, including those on income, expenditure, ownership of vehicle, occupation, qualification and caste grouping among others, can be put to various other uses in other departments as well, said Mohsin. He, however, said that whether the report would be released or not would be a decision that the government would have to take.