The BJP supporters and local booth workers in Bengaluru and other key political segments are bullish about retaining power in Karnataka. “The BJP will win, and the Congress will lose out in Karnataka. For us, the countdown for 2024 has already begun,” says a BJP leader.
In the ongoing debate on OBC politics vis-a-vis insults hurled on them by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the litigation, a few important pointers about caste politics got sidelined or almost ignored.
The BJP Government’s multi-pronged welfare measures for OBC groups, Mali, Maalagara, Kinbara and Tigala in Karnataka are considered vital electorally. Caste politics is always critical in Karnataka elections. The BJP leaders, including Union Minister of State for IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, had earlier blamed Karnataka’s Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for “strengthening the roots of caste politics between 2013 and 2018”.
Siddaramiah again is in the race for Chief Minister for Congress himself hails from the Kurubua community, a traditionally herding community.
The largest of the OBC groups in Karnataka are the Kurubas forming about 8-9 per cent of the OBC population in the State. But some other OBC segments, such as Vishwakarma, Kolis, Billavas and Mogaveeras have, over the years, moved closer to the BJP owing to multiple factors, including a strong influence of Hindutva and Narendra Modi’s ‘assertive good governance’.
According to BJP National general secretary Tarun Chugh, the Congress party’s OBC paranoia is “age-old”.
“The political parties espousing the cause of the OBCs came up in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. They ate into the vote base of Congress. Even after three decades (since 1990 Mandal politics), the Congress has mostly lost its base in states where OBC identity-based regional parties cropped up,” says Tarun Chugh.
In total, OBC, as a full basket, forms 33 per cent of Karnataka’s electorate; hence, the BJP has been trying to make a deeper penetration in over 100 sub-communities among the OBCs. “The idea is to broaden our base beyond our traditional support”.
Last year as the poll discussions kicked off, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced a slew of initiatives, including the creation of a study chair at Tumkur University in the name of a deity revered by small OBC groups. Extra funds were earmarked for the welfare of smaller OBC groups.
The saffron party’s strategies have unnerved the Congress party a lot, as in the past, the OBC groups generally supported the grand old party. In Bengaluru, an IT software professional, Timir Deka, says, “The BJP’s campaign against Rahul Gandhi on insults to Modis as a community and OBC in bigger canvas came at the right moment. On ground people are saying that this time several OBC groups will shift allegiance to the BJP”.
Thus there is a possibility, according to BJP supporters, the Congress party has only harmed their own interest in Karnataka when the entire party is seen as backing Rahul Gandhi for his remarks against the OBC community. As it is, local BJP booth workers say the Lotus party is focusing on wooing non-Kuruba and other sub-groups who have traditionally often voted against the Congress.
In big picture formulation, the Hindus form a huge majority of 84 per cent of Karnataka’s population and issues related to Hindutva-oriented nationalism and the good governance of PM Modi are key factors swaying their mind in the run-up to the next month’s polls.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, from the beginning, has tried to address issues concerning various smaller communities falling under the OBC category but were neglected. In the State budget too, Basavaraj Bommai unveiled programmes worth Rs 400 crore seeking to help small OBC groups.
All these are now coming handy at the elections. Analysts point out that even in Uttar Pradesh during the 2017 assembly elections, the BJP’s focus on smaller communities among OBC groups had helped the saffron party.
This can be stated here in reference to 2016 ‘creamy layer’ redefining efforts of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
The issue of raising of the ceiling in annual income actually helped families to get the benefits of quota, resulting in a larger pool of candidates getting eligible for jobs and seats in educational institutions. It may be mentioned here that the term ‘creamy layer’ refers to relatively wealthier members of the OBC who will not be eligible for Government sponsored reserved jobs reserved and educational programmes.
In March 2023, the BJP Government abolished the ‘OBC quota for Muslims’, which entitled them to the reservation but is considered “unconstitutional” as any reservation based on religion is not allowed. Moreover, it is always wise for poll strategists to reflect upon that the OBCs could, directly and indirectly, influence a lot to decide on who will rule in Karnataka.