BJP’s attempt to woo Dalit Left with 6% quota: Experts
With Assembly elections in sight, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Basavaraj Bommai, recommended the internal reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs) to accommodate the long pending demands for enhanced quotes for various communities.
While the move was seen as a strategy to strengthen its vote base of left Dalits, experts said it could become a double-edged sword for the saffron party.
In October last year, the state government hiked the reservation for SCs from 15% to 17% and Scheduled Tribes (STs) from 3% to 7%.
The revised policy has taken the reservation tally in Karnataka to 56% – SC 17%, ST 7% and OBC 32%, against the 50% cap imposed by the Supreme Court.
Amid the growing clamour for internal reservation after a rise in the quota, the cabinet recommended a 6% internal quota for SC (Left), 5.5% for SC (Right), 4.5% for touchable (Banjara, Bhovi, Korcha, Kuruma etc.) and 1% for others.
According to experts, the BJP wants to retain the support of one section of Dalits, the Left Dalits, as the Right conventionally supports the Congress.
Between the SC (Left) and SC (Right) sub-groups, those belonging to the Left are considered more backward than the Right. SC Left includes Madiga, Adi Dravida, Bambi and other such castes, while SC Right has Banjara, Bhovi, Koracha, Korama.
The Madigas are the largest group in the SC Left category, who make up 6% of the 17% SC population.
Political analyst A Narayana said, “The Madigas have been supporting the BJP to a large extent for a long time. The Left-hand Dalits felt sidelined by Congress for a long time. This is because all the major leaders from Congress are Right-hand Dalits. So, the BJP started capitalising on this, and it worked to some extent until 2018. Even in the 2018 assembly elections, proportionately speaking, more Left Dalits voted for the BJP than right Dalits.”
In 2008, the BJP won 22 of the 36 seats reserved for SCs, while the Congress won 10. In 2013, Congress got a clear majority and won 17 SC seats, while the JD(S) won 10 and the BJP seven. However, in 2018, BJP was the single largest party and got 16 SC seats, while Congress got 12 and JD(S) six.
Narayana pointed out that since 2018, the BJP has been cultivating a section of the community by giving them opportunities in the central cabinet and accommodating them wherever possible. “Even with all that, it’s not that the entire lot went with the BJP. Some pockets were left with the Congress as well,” he said.
“With an internal reservation, BJP did this to prevent the possible erosion of support of the Left-hand Dalits because this had become a major demand by the section even during the last elections. In the last elections, they felt cheated because the Siddaramaiah government could not act on that. Therefore, one of the reasons why the Left-hand Dalits voted for the BJP is that,” Narayana said.
“The demand resurfaced in the run-up to this election when the Left Dalits started saying that if Congress did not help us, you help. Otherwise, we are not going to vote for you. BJP, despite cultivating them very well, felt the threat of possible erosion of left Dalits, and it became inevitable for them to do this, not to get more votes but to keep them intact,” Narayana said.
The Justice AJ Sadashiva Commission was set up to re-examine the reserved categories in Karnataka in 2006.
In 2012, the commission, which submitted its report to the BJP government under chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda, recommended the reclassification of SCs in the state into four categories – Left, Right, touchable, and other Dalit castes. The 15% reservation, with each of these groups getting six, five, three and one per cent, was, however, not implemented before the polls in 2013.
Narayana said that the delay and last-minute announcement of internal reservation has also created a lot of confusion among all the sections of the SC community, with some groups calling it unscientific.
“The Sadashiva Commission report was kept pending for about 10-12 years. Now that elections are around the corner, they have announced it. Our first question is, is it scientific? If they had to it, why didn’t they do it as soon as they came to power?” M Gurumurthy, a Dalit (Right) leader, said.
“We don’t even know if the 17% will stand the test of the law. Even if it clears all hurdles, why have different groups been given different percentages of reservation? Why should one group get more than the other?” he added.
“Had they acted on this when they deemed office, they would’ve been able to do a more scientific job of it. But since they did it as a result of a political ploy, just so that the left Dalits don’t desert them, they had to do it in a hurry and not following all the rules of the game. It is also a job not completed as of now because it has to clear a lot of hurdles,” Narayana said.
“This has also left some people unhappy. While the left Dalits are unhappy that they did not start this process early, and therefore it is incomplete. Some also feel that since this is done unscientifically, they don’t know if this will stand the test of the law. Third, other groups who are going to get affected and feel some threat because of this are the Banjaras,” Narayana said.
Massive protests erupted in several parts of the state over internal reservations recommended by the state government to the Centre. They alleged that the move by the government would mete out injustice to the Banjaras, and the recommendation must be withdrawn with immediate effect.
“This has created a lot of confusion. As a result, we can’t say whether BJP will gain more votes from the left Dalits than last time. Although, to some extent, it could prevent the erosion of the left Dalits,” Narayana said.