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23 per cent of votes, 36 seats: On Dalit support hinge the hopes of all parties

Karnataka Assembly Elections: Though Dalits have traditionally been identified as supporters of the Congress, they have broken away from this tradition in recent years and allied with the BJP.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru |
Updated: May 15, 2018 6:50:05 am
A security personnel stands guard outside a room where EVMs are kept in Chikmagalur on Monday. (PTI Photo)

At 23 per cent of the population of Karnataka, Scheduled Castes have been playing a decisive role in the verdicts delivered in Assembly polls and could be a key decisive factor when results of the 2018 Assembly polls are announced Wednesday.

The 2004 Assembly elections, which threw up a hung verdict, saw the BJP winning 13 of the 33 seats reserved for Scheduled Caste or Dalit communities while the Congress won seven and the JD(S) nine. In the 2008 Assembly polls, when the BJP emerged the single largest party, it captured 22 of the 36 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes while the Congress won eight. And in 2013, when the Congress got a clear majority in the polls, it won 17 of the SC seats while the JD(S) won nine and the BJP six.

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Though Dalits have traditionally been identified as supporters of the Congress, they have broken away from this tradition in recent years and allied with the BJP, especially after the party carried out, from the 2004 polls, a social engineering exercise to attract a section of Dalit voters, called the Left Dalits, who are considered the most marginalised among such communities.

In the current elections, too, the Left Dalit group, which forms the largest chunk of Dalits, is seen as having tilted towards the BJP and the JD(S) in some constituencies as part of a strategy to highlight the neglect of the community by the Congress who have been in power in the state.

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“Where the Congress has fielded a Left Dalit or Madiga, the community has backed the party in those regions, but in other places they have voted tactically against those who are opposed to issues like internal reservation for Madigas,” said H N Chandrappa, a Dalit leader in the Shimoga region.

The Congress is estimating that the large chunk of Left and Right Dalit votes has fallen in its favour across the reserved constituencies and the state in general on account of the presence of key leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge and H Anjaneya in the party. “What we are hearing is that the entire Right Dalit votes have come to the Congress while the Left is a bit divided,” a close aide of Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said after the polls.

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The release of data of voter turnout by the Election Commission has revealed very high turnouts in districts like Mandya, Tumkur, Hassan, Chamarajanagar and the Bengaluru Rural districts in southern Karnataka and this is being attributed to the participation of voters from the poorer communities like the Dalits; this, in turn, is being seen as a possible indicator of a good Congress show.

“There is a high turnout of voters in rural areas in many parts and this indicates that many who did not come out to vote in the past have voted and this is likely to be from backward communities like Dalits,’’ a Congress leader said.

In the five years of its tenure in Karnataka, the Congress made a concerted effort to consolidate its traditional Dalit vote base by promoting Left Dalit or Madiga leaders like Anjaneya, the Social Welfare Minister, and by tripling fund allocation for Dalits to over Rs 88,000 crore. Siddaramaiah has identified himself as being a Dalit on occasions and also organised a major conference Quest for Equity in 2017 to celebrate the work of Dr B R Ambedkar.

“The Congress party has done a lot for Madigas. The government has shown concern for our situation and we want to be united behind the Congress. Our leaders have been made ministers and important positions have been given to us in the government,” Anjaneya said ahead of the polls.

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The BJP has attempted to exploit the fractures in the scheduled caste community in the run up to the 2018 polls but is not viewed as having been very successful on account of an anti-BJP narrative running in the community in the wake of incidents that have occurred in other parts of the country.

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The JD(S), which earned traction with the SC community for the 2018 polls after forging an alliance with the BSP of Mayawati, is expecting to do well in many constituencies in South Karnataka on the back of the alliance. “We are supporting JD(S) candidates in a few places because of the alliance with Mayawati and because we are opposed to the Congress candidates, who have been against us,” M Nagaraj, a Left Dalit leader, said after the polls.

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