Karnataka minister faces uphill battle in polls over failure to implement reservation
As the mini open-air truck made its way into the Dalit colony of Talya village in Holalkere around noon, residents urged social welfare minister H Anjaneya to speak to them and address their concerns.
Citing a paucity of time, as he had around 20 more villages to visit, Anjaneya begged to be allowed to move to the next village. An angry Gowramma flew into a rage, “Why did you come here if you did not want to speak to us?” she thundered.
Anjaneya’s supporters quickly defused the situation, and as it was noon already, the minister had to rush through.
Anger against Anjaneya has been brewing over the past five years for his failure to fulfil a promise to implement internal reservations for the Scheduled Caste (SC) Left communities.
In Karnataka, the Scheduled Castes are divided into the Left, the Right and the Touchable groups. The report of the AJ Sadashiva Commission, which looked into disparities in distribution of benefits among the various groups, had highlighted that the Left communities (comprising the Madiga, Adijambava, Arundhati, Aadikarntaka and Samagara sub-castes) had historically been disadvantaged and called for changes in the 18% reservation for SCs, who constitute about 17% of the population according to the 2011 Census.
This move has been opposed by the other sub-castes among Dalits, but for Anjaneya, who belongs to the Madiga sub-caste, the trouble lies in the fact that the majority of the SCs in his constituency belong to the Left category. According to Election Commission (EC) data, SCs account for 25% of the voters in the constituency, which is reserved for candidates from the community. Anjaneya braved the anger and insisted that the Sadashiva report had no bearing on the polls. “We have formed three corporations for the Left groups so there is no anger against me or the government. It is true that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to rake up the issue, but it has not amounted to anything,” he said.
Chowdappa, a resident of Talya, insisted that the Congress government had done more for Dalits than any previous government. “The government has ensured that we don’t need to beg the upper castes for water thanks to the borewells it has built for us,” he said, referring to the Ganga Kalyana Scheme, an old scheme that locals say was given more impetus by the current government.
But, the failure on the Sadashiva Commission report front is an undercurrent in all conversations in the Dalit colony. “Five years ago they said they would implement it, but now it is already time for the next polls and the promise to implement the recommendations of the report remain,” said Rangaswamy, another resident of the village. The failure on this count had also resulted in Anjaneya making an influential enemy in the Dalit seer Basavamuthy Madara Channaiah Swamy, who also hails from the district. However, the Congress has made efforts to placate the seer, who is considered influential among the Madigas.
Sitting on a slightly elevated throne in his mutt, Channaiah said he was not interested in politics. “Anjaneya visited me recently, along with other Congress leaders,” he said. The former Union minister and current member of Parliament from Kolar KH Muniyappa is a trustee of the mutt, the Chitradurga MP and Congress leader BN Chandrappa is also close to the seer. Channaiah is known for his close association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and said he is in constant touch with RSS sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat.
The BJP’s candidate, M Chandrappa, belongs to the Bhovi community, and this might work against him. But in Talya, the other numerically significant group in the area, the Lingayats, claimed the BJP had their support, because the Congress was only interested in the welfare of the Dalits.
“We all voted for him in 2013, but he did nothing for us. All the work he has taken up is for the Dalits,” said GN Basavaraj. “Every work that has been taken up in this village has been for the Dalits,” he said.
Speaking about the state government’s move to recognise Lingayats as a religious minority, Basavaraj said, “It was definitely necessary to recognise us as a separate religion. But religion and politics shouldn’t be mixed, so this doesn’t ensure that we will vote for the Congress.”