Why the Vokkaligas are angry with Siddaramaiah

While many Lingayats seem convinced with Siddaramaiah’s efforts, the Vokkaligas, who are numerically significant in the state, feel ignored by the CM and his party.
Why the Vokkaligas are angry with Siddaramaiah
Why the Vokkaligas are angry with Siddaramaiah
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Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is seen as the man who “divided” the Lingayat community, especially by the BJP. But his other opponent – the JD(S) – is  quite content that Siddaramaiah has helped “unite” its social base, the upper caste group of Vokkaligas.

In a conspicuously different approach, the Vokkaligas are quietly consolidating in favour of the JD(S) in the Old Mysuru region, where they are the dominant community.

The battles that Siddaramaiah fought, both within his own party as well as outside, in the run-up to the Assembly elections, are testimony to his efforts to woo a large section of the Lingayat vote. The Chief Minister saw a political advantage in exactly what the BJP has been accusing him of: “dividing”, the saffron party’s principal vote bank. It was on the basis of that vote bank that the BJP even decided to present BS Yeddyurappa as its Chief Ministerial candidate.

However, Congress party workers have been rather perplexed by the approach adopted by Siddaramaiah towards the Vokkaliga community. While the party High Command had, in the early days of Siddaramaiah’s term in 2013, suggested that the AHINDA (acronym for minorities, OBCs and Dalits) base needs to be expanded to form a social axis, with at least one upper caste group – Siddaramaiah has seemingly ignored the suggestion.

In fact, the Congress High Command had suggested that the party focus on Vokkaligas, because they are a smaller community compared to the Lingayats. The social axis between the Vokkaligas and the Kurubas had also worked well for Deve Gowda during the late 1980’s when he had broken away from the Ramakrishna Hegde-led Janata Party. That was how Deve Gowda mentored Siddaramaiah, who hails from the Kuruba community, the largest OBC in the state.

At the time that suggestion was made by the High Command, the image of the state JD(S) leader and former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy was at its lowest. He was considered “untrustworthy” by a sizeable section in the community because the party representing the interests of the Vokkaligas had been reduced to number three position in the Legislative Assembly.

The High Command had, in fact, even suggested at one stage that the process could begin when leaders from the Vokkaliga community – like DK Shivakumar and Krishna Byre Gowda – were appointed to the Cabinet. In the absence of any concrete strategic initiative coming from the Chief Minister, the suggestion was simply dropped.

Further, certain actions of the Chief Minister alienated the Vokkaliga community and changed their view of Kumaraswamy. Officials belonging to the Vokkaliga community were shifted to insignificant posts, and those belonging to the Kuruba community and Dalits were given prime postings. Even Lingayat community members secured good postings because they lobbied effectively, though it was well known that the community had largely voted against the Congress party in the last election.

“Nobody opposes social equity. But, here social equity was at the cost of efficiency,” said a senior official, a Vokkaliga, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It even led to a feeling among the Vokkaliga leaders within the Congress that the community was singled out for discrimination. The officials from the community are known to discuss such issues in family circles and among friends.

The process to erase the charge of discrimination did begin a year or so ago. Quite a few important posts were given to officials of the Vokkaliga community. Even among the promotees to the IAS from the KAS (Karnataka Administrative Service), a sizeable chunk hailed from Vokkaliga community. The point to be noted here is that such files are signed by none other than the Chief Minister as the minister incharge of the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms (DPAR). But, the barometer of satisfaction remained unchanged because the community continued to feel aggrieved.

As political parties were taking the first few steps to launch the campaign for the elections a few months ago, the political attacks of Siddaramaiah on Deve Gowda were subtly portrayed as an attack on the Vokkaliga community itself by the crafty Kumaraswamy. It was in this context that the challenge was thrown to Siddaramaiah by the father-son duo to contest from Chamundeshwari, which has the Vokkaligas as the largest caste group. It is obvious that Siddaramaiah would not have picked up the gauntlet if he was not sure of victory. After all, his entire electoral strategy is to return as Chief Minister, a record held only by late Devaraj Urs.

Incidentally, it was Urs who originally conceptualised the social axis of the OBCs, Dalits and minorities, because he realised that the state was overwhelmingly populated by these social groups. This was also the only way that he could have come to power because he belonged to neither the Vokkaliga nor the Lingayat community. Until 1972, Karnataka had Chief Ministers who belonged to either the Vokkaliga or the Lingayat communities.

Siddaramaiah’s ascendency to Chief Ministership was also based on the revival of the Urs platform, on the insistence of RL Jalappa, a great admirer of the late Chief Minister. But, changing times have brought the spotlight on those who have been deprived the benefits of an affirmation programme.

It is in this context that Siddaramaiah also saw an opportunity, sometime in the middle of last year, when a delegation of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha (AIVM) called on him to seek recognition as a minority religion.

He was well briefed by some community members to realise that the minority tag would help the “have nots” within the Lingayat fold, as against the “haves.” Socially, he realised that those who converted from OBC and Dalit communities, and believed in Basavanna’s teachings, were not able to reap the benefits that the small section of the Veerashaiva Lingayats had got over the years.

He assessed that a minority tag would help the backward sections among the Lingayats, for instance, to get more seats in Lingayat institutions, which would be considered as minority educational institutions once the Centre approves Karnataka’s recommendation for a minority tag. In his scheme of things, it is an extension of his AHINDA platform.

As a Congress leader from the Old Mysuru region put it, on condition of anonymity, “The effort that the Chief Minister has put in reaching out to the Lingayat community is stupendous. Yes, the party has always had the support of 30-35% of the Vokkaliga community and we need to improve upon it. All that he needed to make was a minimal effort to get a more sizeable section of support from the Vokkaliga community.’’

Views expressed are the author's own.

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