In Karnataka, as the Assembly election results came out, it has become clear that the Dalit votes have gone to the Congress on polling day, 10 May. As per Census 2011, Scheduled Castes form 17.15 percent of the state’s population.
Karnataka has strong Dalit leaders including All India Congress Committee President Mallikarjun Kharge and former MLA G Parameshwara and a Kuruba mass leader Siddaramaiah. But, it’s not just the influence of these leaders that has secured a larger consolidation of Dalit-Bahujan-Muslim votes for the Congress.
How the Ahinda Voters Tipped the Balance
It seems, votes of Left-Dalits or Madigas, who form a big chunk of the Dalit population in Karnataka, have swung in favour of the Congress this time. Similarly, the ‘Touchable’ Dalits too seem to have voted for the Congress this time, apart from the Holeyas or Right-Dalits, who have always had political representation in the Congress. AICC President and Congress leader from Kalaburagi Mallikarjun Kharge himself is a Holeya. In Hyderabad Karnataka region, from where Kharge hails, the Congress is leading in 26 seats out of 40 at 12 noon, on 13 May. As per the India Today Axis My India exit polls, the Congress has enjoyed a 14 percent increase in the Dalit votes in the state.
Also, across Karnataka, there seems to have been a consolidation of Ahinda (Alpasankhyataru (Minorities), Hindulidavaru (Backward Classes) and Dalitaru (Dalits) votes) or the Dalit, Bahujan, Muslim votes, which have been a focus area for former Chief Minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah.
In keeping with counting day trend, the India Today Axis My India had predicted a 4 percent rise of ST votes, 5 percent rise of OBC votes, 4 percent rise of Kuruba votes, and 10 percent rise of Muslim votes for the Congress.
Why this swing?
In short, the Madigas seem to have returned to the Congress after voting for the BJP since the early 2000, when former Chief Minister and Lingayat leader BS Yediyurappa had convinced the community to support the BJP in exchange for sub-caste reservation. In 2018, the Madigas voted against Siddaramaiah-led Congress front, with many of their organisations openly campaigning against the grand old party as his government had not implemented the sub-caste or internal reservation. In 2023, however, the Congress seems to have won back this caste group thanks to some quick thinking over sub-caste reservation from the leadership.
The 'Touchable Dalits' or Banjaras too seem to have voted for the Congress in large numbers after the BJP announced sub-caste reservation of 4.5 percent for the community. Following the same trend as that of Dalits, Muslims, Kurubas and other OBCs, have voted in higher numbers for the Congress, as against the former trend of some of these votes going to the Janata Dal (Secular). Why?
Was BJP Too Late in Proposing Sub-Caste Reservation To Woo Madigas?
In Hyderabad Karnataka’s Raichur, A Ambanna said he decided to vote for the Congress over the BJP back in March 2023. Ambanna’s organisation MRHS (Madiga Reservation Horatta Samithi) had been agitating since November 2022 for sub-caste reservation for the Left-Dalits or the Madigas, when the Congress under the leadership DK Shivakumar and G Parameshwara announced in a meeting held in February that they would support the implementation of AJ Sadashiva Commission report. “I decided to join the Congress the next day,” Ambanna told The Quint. Sadashiva Commission had supported substantial sub-caste reservation for Madigas, who are considered more backward than the other Dalits including Holeyas (Right Dalits) and Banjaras or Lambanis (‘Touchables’).
It is not just leaders of MRHS that gave support to the Congress before the election, as 12 organisations under Dalit Sangharsha Samthi (DSS) pledged support for the grand old party during the run-up to the polls. “In the past, the Left-Dalits had seldom pledged open support for the Congress,” Ambanna said.
In April, the BJP overhauled the reservation matrix in Karnataka, giving 6 percent sub-caste reservation for Madigas, 5.5 percent for Holeyas or Right-Dalits, and 4.5 percent for ‘Touchable’ Dalits. However, this seems to have neither convinced the Madigas, nor the Lambanis or Banjaras, who fall within the ‘Touchable’ Dalit category.
“At first the BJP wanted to split the reservation by giving 5.5 percent to both the Holeyas and the Madigas. It was only after the Congress stepped in that they decided to give 6 percent to Madigas. There is distrust towards the BJP,” Ambanna said, adding, the reservation proposed by the BJP is not yet approved by the Centre. Besides, organisations within the DSS have also been maintaining that the BJP has been attacking the Constitution of India by not upholding the country's secular fabric.
How Have the ‘Touchable’ Dalits Voted?
The sub-caste reservation which BJP offered, however, seems to have rattled another community – the ‘Touchable’ Dalits, a majority of whom are Banjaras or Lambanis. While in the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana the Banjaras are included in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list, in Karnataka they are included in the Scheduled Castes (SC) list.
The BJP according subcaste reservation at the last moment made this community anxious that they will be removed from the SC list and included in the ST list especially in the Hyderabad Karnataka region, where the Congress has capitalised on their votes.
The Congress’ strategy in Hyderabad Karnataka is largely credited to both Mallikarjun Kharge and DK Shivakumar. In Hyderabad Karnataka, where the Congress has swept the polls, the party had divided the seats between Holeyas and ‘Touchable’ Dalits. The BJP’s assurance that the SC list will remain the same, does not seem to have persuaded the Lambanis, where as the Holeyas have stuck to the Congress this time too on account of Kharge.
“The Lambanis always got political representation but this time they seem to have gone with the Congress,” Ambanna said, adding this does not worry the Madigas as the Congress has promised including of special category reservation under the 9th scheduled of the Constitution. The Congress has promised upping the reservation cutoff to 75 percent by including the same in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution, like it was done by Tamil Nadu earlier.
Kuruba, OBC, and Muslim Votes Go in Higher Numbers to the Congress
According to India Today Axis My India exit polls, the Kuruba votes in Karnataka has increased by 4 percent, OBC votes have increased by 5 percent, and Muslim votes by 10 percent. This trend is largely credited to Siddaramaiah who has been campaigning for a larger unity between Dalit, Bahujan (OBC) and Muslim voters to favour the Congress. Siddaramaiah had said way back in 2022, that Ahinda votes will bring Congress to power in the state.
“Siddaramaiah has been campaigning for this unity for long and this time, even KPCC President DK Shivakumar has supported this idea and acted proactively. Besides, Siddaramaiah’s mass appeal too has helped draw the voters of this segment,” a Congress leader said. Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba leader himself.
The final knell for the BJP’s campaign was sounded by the Muslim voters, who seem to have consolidated their vote in favour of the Congress ahead of the elections, especially after the BJP scrapped the 4 percent reservation which the community had got under the Backward Classes list.
The BJP had split up this 4 percent and given the spoils, 2 percent each, to Vokkaligas and Lingayats in the hope of getting their favour. BJP leaders including KS Eshwarappa even issued statement giving up on the Muslim votes, following this decision. The Congress promised to bring back the Muslims under the BC quota if voted to power, thereby winning the confidence of the community. Besides, Siddaramaiah is a favoured leader among the Muslims, as he had “always taken on the RSS without mincing words,” a Congress leader said.
Backed by the Ahinda votes, the Congress seems to have trailed through with the party winning in 136 seats – way above the halfway mark of 113 seats – in Karnataka Assembly elections 2023.