Who will Dalits vote for in Karnataka Assembly elections?
Bengaluru: “Who will Dalits vote for in Karnataka Assembly elections?” is an extremely crucial question for the political parties in this southern states as Dalits make up about 20% of the state’s population and can drive the result in about 100 seats.
The Congress is banking heavily on the Dalit votes to gain an edge over its rivals and hopes that a uniform voting pattern would take it through.
The elections in the past have seen at least 50 per cent of the Dalit votes going to the Congress. The BJP on the other hand would bag around 20 per cent of the Dalit votes. In poll bound Karnataka, the BJP will bank on the Lingayat votes while the JD(S) will rely on the Vokkaligas. For the Congress, it would be a mix of the Vokkaligas and the minorities plus the Dalit votes.
In 2008, the BJP had won 22 out of the 36 reserved seats. In 2013, the Congress bounced back to win 17 of the reserved seats. Now the question is would this be sufficient to indicate that the Dalits had backed the BJP in 2008 or Congress in 2013?
Dr. Sandeep Shastri, leading political scientist explains that it is not a good idea to use reserved seats as a data to determine Dalit votes. In a reserved seat, only the candidate is a Dalit. The voters are from various castes and communities.
Dr. Shastri refers to a survey conducted by him where the voting pattern in Vokkaliga, Lingayat and Kuruba dominated constituencies was conducted.
In the two successive elections we found that the winner of the seats is the one who got a majority of the dominant caste vote. In fact the candidate who got the maximum Dalit vote came second. Hence I would be cautious in using the reserved seat theory to determine which way the Dalits would be voting, Dr Shastri says.
Siddaramaiah has gone out of his way to ensure that he bags a majority of the Dalit votes. Dr. Shastri says that the past elections have shown that around half the Dalit votes have gone to the Congress while the rest have been divided between the BJP and JD(S). This has been a consistent trend, he also adds.
When asked about how it would be during this election, Dr. Shastri says that he does not see the pattern changing much. A large number of Dalits who are spread across all constituencies are still with the Congress. However, those Dalits who are influenced by the BJP’s Hindutva agenda would move towards the party this time. This is not because they are Dalits, but because they believe in the party’s ideology, Dr. Shastri also says. Whatever Hindu mobilisation that the BJP has been doing is also Dalit mobilisation, he also says.
This time around the beeline being made for the Dalit votes is very clear. The JD(S) entered into a tie up with the BSP in a bid to capture some of the Dalit votes. Political analysts are of the view that the BSP’s influence would be very limited but could shake the apple cart in certain constituencies.
As elections in the past have shown that the Dalits have backed the Congress, there could be some amount of shake up this time. There is the Madiga community which is upset with Siddaramaiah for the non-implementation of the Justice A J Sadashiva Commission report on internal reservation. This faction has been backing the BJP. The commission had reclassified the 101 Dalit groups in the state into four sections. It said that of the 15 per cent reservation provided for SCs, it recommended 6 per cent for the untouchable groups, 5 per cent for other groups, 3 per cent for the non-untouchables and 1 per cent to the other SC groups.
This faction which is unhappy with the non-implementation of the report would be the ones that the JD(S) and BJP would be tapping. It is an emotive issue and the Congress led talks with these groups have failed. It would be interesting to see whether they would back the BJP or JD(S) this time.
The BJP on the other hand has had some firefighting to do where the Dalits are concerned. The remarks about the Constitution, by BJP leader, Anant Kumar Hegde and also the Supreme Court’s verdict diluting the provisions of the SC/ST Act have been stumbling blocks for the BJP.