Just months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Karnataka cabinet led by Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has announced a grant of Rs 25 crore for setting up a Brahmin Development Board. The same was promised by the JD(S) in its manifesto ahead of the May 2018 Assembly Elections. And while the Brahmin Development Board was announced by Kumaraswamy in the state budget in July 2018, the grant of Rs 25 crore was cleared by the cabinet only on Thursday.
Political analysts point out that this move is the coalition government's counter to the 10% quota for the economically weaker section (EWS) of upper castes announced by the Narendra Modi government in January. Moreover, this is also a play to win the confidence of Brahmin population which is traditionally thought to be a BJP vote bank.
“The government has decided to set up the Brahmin Development Board and initiate a series of schemes for providing more opportunities for the economically weaker section of the community in the sphere of education, jobs and social commitments,” Rural Development Minister Krishna Byregowda told reporters following a cabinet meeting.
He added, “The board will also be undertaking mass marriages and provide financial assistances to hold mass upanayanam.” The Brahmin Development Board will function on the lines of boards set up for other communities.
Commenting on this, political analyst Sandeep Shastri said this move is likely to benefit the Congress and JD(S) in urban seats and in the coastal Karnataka region. “It is definitely a corollary to the Centre’s economical weaker section. But let’s remember although this community is very small in terms of population with less than 5% presence, they are very influential. Given the fact that this community has traditionally backed the BJP, it is an effort of the government to take away some of those votes towards itself,” Shastri said.
He added, “This can have an impact in urban seats as the community has a little larger presence in urban areas than rural Karnataka and also in the coastal region even though there is no seat where Brahmins are a significant vote chunk by themselves.”
Another political commentator Mahadeva Prakash agreed this was in response to the Centre’s 10% EWS quota and said that this move was nothing but to appease the Brahmin community ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
“Till date, various commissions have found that despite their presence of little over 2.6%, they have representation of 6-7% be it in jobs or education,” he said.
Prakash pointed out that there are two Lok Sabha seats— Bangalore South and Shimoga (both won by the BJP in 2014)— which have high presence of Brahmins.
The BJP leaders in the state, however, are reluctant to react on the matter even though they acknowledge this seems to be an answer to the BJP-led Centre’s 10% EWS quota.
The BJP-led government had on January 7 introduced in the Lok Sabha a controversial bill seeking to provide reservation to economically backward members among the ‘general category’ in government higher education institutes and jobs. Despite the criticism from opposition parties, the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha and later the Rajya Sabha. On January 12, President Ram Nath Kovind cleared the bill turning it into law.