Having drawn appreciation from a vast section of Dalits for organising a mega conference on Dr B R Ambedkar in Bengaluru recently, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has expressed keenness to release results of a caste census conducted two years ago in a bid to consolidate the community’s support. The Socio Educational and Economic Census, a pet project of Siddaramaiah, was sanctioned in 2013 and completed in 2015. But the results have been under wraps, reportedly due to opposition from a section of Dalit leaders within the ruling Congress and dominant castes like Lingayats in north Karnataka.
According to some Dalit leaders, the opposition to release of the report is from a section in the community known as “right Dalits”, anecdotally shown as enjoying most benefits in the society over the poorer “left Dalits”. Lingayats, it is learnt, are opposed to the release as leaked sections of the report have shown their numbers as being substantially lower than the current estimate in which they account for 17 per cent of the state’s six crore population.
Leaked sections of the report have shown Dalits to be the largest community in the state. According to current estimates, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes account for nearly 23 per cent of Karnataka’s population. The Scheduled Castes or Dalits are, however, divided into “right dalits” (Holayas who follow Babu Jagjivan Ram) and “left Dalits” (Madigas who follow Ambedkar). The “left Dalits” feel hard done by the “right Dalits” in benefiting from reservations in government jobs and education and have been demanding release of the caste census to throw light on their situation. There has been speculation that the Siddaramaiah government is likely to release the findings ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls.
“After the census report comes, we will be able to create programmes for the downtrodden and give preference to them in our planning. We want to make the report public but there are hindrances to it from those opposed to social justice. They accuse me of engaging in caste politics. Is it caste politics to try and understand the situation of people?’’ Siddaramaiah said on the final day of the Ambedkar meet. According to sources in the government, much of the opposition to the release of the findings is from within Congress in which “right Dalits” occupy important positions.
“The biggest opposition is not from Lingayats, but from Congress leaders from the community,’’ the sources said. Senior Congress leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, G Parameshwara and H C Mahadevappa are “right Dalits”. The party currently lacks any major leader from the left group other than Social Welfare Minister H Anjaneya and former union minister K H Muniyappa. Incidentally, the BJP carried out a social engineering exercise among Dalits in Karnataka a decade ago to exploit the weakness in the Congress support base within the community. In the 2008 elections, BJP won 21 of the 36 seats reserved for SC candidates in Karnataka. In 2013, Congress won 15 SC seats, while BJP and JDS won seven and 12, respectively.
Madiga activist B Nagaraj said at the Ambedkar conference, “Left Dalits have two major demands if Congress seeks their support — one is the release of the caste census report and the other is implementation of Justice A J Sadashiva commission recommendations.’’ Justice A J Sadashiva commission report of 2012 recommends internal reservations among Dalits taking into account backwardness and right-left groupings.