Bitter caste battles grip Congress and BJP (Karnataka Newsletter)
Bangalore, June 22 (IANS) Casual visitors to Karnataka these days will find it hard to believe that the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are India's national parties. They will easily conclude that these parties are not even regional outfits but just platforms for caste groups to fight bitter battles for domination.
While various castes have always tried to outsmart others for a greater say in these parties in various states, the intensity of the fight in Karnataka these days should alarm the two parties' national leaders.
However, with the presidential election and speculation about early polls to the Lok Sabha demanding full attention of the national leaders of the two parties, they have little time to spare to stem the rot in Karnataka.
With elections to the state assembly due in less than a year and with every possibility of them being held this year-end, the caste battles will only accentuate in the coming days.
Two caste groups, Lingayats and Vokkaligas, which have dominated Karnataka's politics for decades are again involved in fight for virtual control of both the BJP and the Congress.
Lingayats form about 17 percent of the state's 65 million population and Vokkaligas follow closely with 16 percent.
Leaders of the two caste groups in the BJP and the Congress have launched a relentless campaign for control of the state units.
The BJP came to power for the first time in the state in May 2008 riding on the platform of "betrayal" of Lingayats by the Vokkaligas, who are generally believed to be the main supporters of Janata Dal-Secular led by former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda.
Gowda's son H.D. Kumaraswamy had broken away from his father and formed a JDS-BJP coalition government in 2006 with himself as chief minister and the BJP's B.S. Yeddyurappa, who is a Lingayat, as his deputy. However, Kumaraswamy did not keep his word of handing over chief ministership to Yeddyurappa after 20 months, resulting in the coalition's collapse.
In the elections that followed in May 2008, the BJP captured power and Yeddyurappa became the chief minister. But he was forced out of office last July last year following mining bribery charges and he handpicked D.V.Sadananda Gowda, a Vokkaliga, to succeed him.
Accusing Sadananda Gowda of going back on his promise of quitting after six months in office, Yeddyurappa and his loyalists in the BJP have been campaigning for his ouster and making Jagadish Shettar, another Lingayat, the chief minister.
Gowda made matters worse for himself and the BJP by claiming at a recent meeting of Vokkaligas in Bangalore that he became chief minister because of the support of his caste group.
This has further incensed the Lingayats in BJP who now say their latest attempt to remove Gowda is a "do or die" one.
Lingayats in the Congress too are clamouring that their caste group continues to be neglected by the party and are demanding the state unit presidentship be given to one of their community. It is now headed by G. Parameshwara, a scheduled caste.
Lingayats in the Congress say the caste group was once a solid supporter of the party but the allegiance has shifted over the years to BJP as the community felt neglected in the Congress.
The campaign to make a Lingayat the state Congress president is led by 82-year-old Congressman Shamanur Shivashankarappa, who runs a string of educational institutions. He is the treasurer of state Congress, a post he has been holding for several years.
"If a Lingayat is made the state Congress chief now, the party will get 150 assembly seats in the next polls," he and other Lingayats supporting him have been going round saying. The state assembly has 225-seats and the Congress now has 71 members.
The Lingayat Congress members recently met in Bangalore to chalk out a strategy to get their demand fulfilled. They too claim their war cry is "do or die".
Apparently the caste groups in the two parties are emboldened by the increasing belief across the country of a drift in the leadership of both the Congress and the BJP.
It looks like the two parties will seek mandate of Karnataka voters while continuing with their "do or die" battles.
(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at email@example.com)
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