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They don't caste their vote

Political movements and the functioning of electoral democracy over the past 65 years have led to considerable social change in Karnataka. When faced with the ballot box, Karnataka prizes performance over identity, writes CP Bhambhri.

india Updated: May 08, 2013 02:11 IST
CP Bhambhri,Karnataka elections,BS Yeddyurappa

Political movements and the functioning of electoral democracy over the past 65 years have led to considerable social change in Karnataka, where old loyalties of caste and community are being substituted by the rising expectations which citizens have from their representatives. The fate of these representatives will be revealed today.

Let us look at a few examples. If proclaimed Lingayat leader BS Yeddyurappa had a strong caste backing, the BJP government in Karnataka should have collapsed with his resignation, but only 15 MLAs of his party resigned with him and in spite of the 'split', the government survived until May 2013.

Further, the Lingayats constitute only 17% of the Karnataka population and the Vokkaligas constitute 15%. While these dominant castes had chief ministers such as S Nijalingappa and Veerandra Patil of the Congress, Devaraj Urs, who came to power in 1972, did not belong to either of these two communities. Veerappa Moily, a former chief minister of the Congress in Karnataka, belonged to a backward caste. How could Indira Gandhi, a complete outsider, win a Lok Sabha election from Chikmagalur in 1978?

The ongoing process of inter-caste and intra-caste fragmentation has become unstoppable and many Vokkaligas or Lingayats from different political parties have competed against one another to win this election. Incidentally, HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (S), a self-appointed representative of rural Karnataka, is a Vokkaliga but unfortunately for him, many Vokkaligas vote for the Congress. Hence no bloc of the dominant castes is a monolith, nor can caste-based leaders claim a monopoly of their kinsmen's support, especially in the 21st century.

Sonia Gandhi in her election campaign reminded BJP campaigners that corruption could not be an issue only for the central government and become irrelevant for Karnataka. Are the so-called caste-based voters unconcerned about corruption in Karnataka in the elections of 2013?

If just caste-based demographics determine electoral results, money power during the 2008 assembly elections should have failed in Bellary district, where the Reddy brothers secured eight out of nine seats for the BJP. But it didn't.

It should not be forgotten that Karnataka has 184 rural constituencies out of the 224 and Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy, as self-appointed rural leaders of the JD (S), have always given a tough fight to the Congress. It is not only Deve Gowda who is campaigning for rural Karnataka's causes. Rahul Gandhi's representative in Karnataka, Madhusudan Mistry, is campaigning for the land rights of tribals and for a minimum support price for minor forest produce. Are these secular demands of different strata of society meaningless and irrelevant for the voters?

It is often forgotten that Karnataka has a history of limited representative government. In 1881, the Maharaja of Mysore had launched an experiment of socially inclusive politics, and Dalits, backward castes, Muslims and other minority groups were accommodated in governance.

In the end it is performance that counts.

CP Bhambhri is a former professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: May 07, 2013 22:09 IST