With the final details of seat sharing and Cabinet positions being ironed out between the Congress and JD(S) in the HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition, the chorus for a Dalit Deputy CM is growing louder.
With HDK, a Vokkaliga (the JD(S)’ primary vote bank) at the helm, it’s safe to assume that the Deputy CM(s) will be a non-Vokkaliga, keeping in account of the caste-sensitive political environment of the state.
Vokkaligas and Lingayats are two of the most influential groups in the state. Although there is no official caste census, Lingayats, according to most unofficial estimates, account for 18% of the electorate while Vokkaligas account for 16%.
Both communities often have had an equal go in terms of MP and MLA seats across the state. The two sections have also seen the maximum number of Chief Minister’s being sworn in from their communities, with the odd leader from the OBC or caste communities rising up the ranks.
On the other hand, Dalits, who make up over 20% of the state’s population, have been grossly under-represented, say community leaders. Congress, despite making the promise multiply times, has failed to make a Dalit the CM or even Deputy CM. In the SM Krishna-led government, Malikarjun Kharge was poised to become Deputy CM but that eventually did not occur.
Understanding the underlying resentment from the community, HDK, ahead of the polls, had said that he would make a Dalit the Deputy CM.
This was also echoed by Siddaramaiah just ahead of the Assembly election results, who said he was open to the idea of the high command choosing a Dalit CM over him.
In the run-up to the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also capitalised on the fact that in the past the likes of Mallikarjun Kharge did not become the CM or even Deputy CM. The PM, in a poll pitch, used this to portray the Congress as ‘anti-Dalit”.
Noted political analyst and Pro Vice-chancellor of Jain University, Sandeep Shastri opines that “the nature of the dominant, backward class politics in the state never made it possible to project a Dalit as CM”.
“We are now talking of a Dalit Deputy CM. The name which comes up is of Parameshwara as the other two prominent Dalit faces— both Mahadevappa and Anjaneya – lost the elections,” says Shastri.
In the past, he mentions, there was one occasion when a Dalit was one of the contenders to become CM.
“There was a time when HD Deve Gowda resigned as CM (in 1996) to become the PM. Although JH Patel had emerged as a favourite, a lot of people wanted B Rachaiah, a Dalit (who was the then Home Minister) to become CM. But then he failed to make the cut. That's the closest the state came to seeing a Dalit become the CM, before Kharge entered the picture,” adds Shastri.
The other Dalit leader who held the position of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief is KH Ranganath, but he also lost out on the CM post. There was another contemporary influential Dalit leader, Basavalingappa, but he had to play second fiddle to Devraj Urs.
“KH Ranganath was a prominent Dalit leader who was made the KPCC president, but during the Devraj Urs era, he could not match his popularity and later he was eclipsed by leaders like Veerappa Moily and S Bangarappa, who were much more senior to him at that time,” says Shastri.
Another political analyst and a professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Narendar Pani agrees with Shastri.
“There were talks of having a Dalit CM when Siddaramaiah came to power. The fact is that if Mallikarjun Kharge had contested the elections in 2013, he would have become the CM,” says Pani.
The fact that G Parameshwara lost in 2013 helped Siddaramaiah come to power.
This time around, understandably, Parameshwara is a favourite to don the role of Deputy CM, Pani adds.
“Now with a Vokkaliga CM, it is relatively easier for a Dalit Deputy CM, except that there are alternative demands for a Lingayat CM too,” Pani observes.
In fact, the President of the Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha, Shamnur Shivashankarappa had written a letter to HD Kumaraswamy, stating that a Lingayat leader must be offered the post of Deputy Chief Minister.