Is it social engineering or caste politics by Siddaramaiah?

Is it social engineering or caste politics by Siddaramaiah?

Is it social engineering or caste politics by Siddaramaiah?
If one asks Chief Minister Siddaramaiah whether caste or poverty should be the base for designing the government’s welfare schemes, probably he would settle for the former. He has been vehemently arguing that poverty among the Dalits and the backward class is very high and the government’s intervention schemes are necessary to address the same.

After completing four years in power and getting ready for the 2018 elections, he has now positioned himself as the ‘crusader’ of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Class which also includes the religious minorities. These castes, according to political parties, constitute nearly 62% of the total voting population in Karnataka.

Holding the placard of social engineering, Siddaramaiah has explored every avenue to allow free flow of funds for the SC/STs and OBC. There has been a nearly four-fold increase in funds allocation for the social welfare department in the last five years including in  2017-18. If the allocated Rs 27,000 crore is spent this year, then the total allocation would stand at Rs 87,000 crore after the Siddaramaiah government came to power.

These funds are routed to 37 departments to be spent on only the SC/STs. As per the rules framed under the Karnataka SCs Sub Plan and Tribal Sub Plan Act of 2013, 24% of the total state’s budget has to be earmarked for the SC/STs. Karnataka emulated this from Andhra Pradesh as funds set aside for these communities were underutilised or diverted.

With this enlarged allocation and spending, Siddaramaiah has also earned the dubious distinction of being labelled by the Opposition parties – BJP and JD (S) – as the ‘most casteist CM’ of Karnataka. This is mainly because of the populist measures he has been announcing from time to time.

Last week, JD (S) leader H D Kumaraswamy on the floor of the legislative assembly as well as at a public function in Mangaluru, charged that Siddaramaiah is not the only casteist, is also witch hunting certain major communities. His party colleague Basavaraj Horatti, MLC, without mincing words, has been saying that the chief minister should not have adopted the ‘divide and rule’ policy.

NARROW VIEW

BJP Member of Parliament Shivakumar Udasi says Siddramaiah, a self-proclaimed Ahinda leader, has given a go bye to inclusive growth while spending the public money. Siddaramaiah has forgotten that he is the chief minister of the state. He has such narrow view that he did not even want to accompany President Pranab Mukherjee to Sri Krishna Mutt in Udupi. He should have set aside his differences with the Mutt and attended the programme as the chief minister, Udasi observed.

But according to sources in the Congress party, Siddaramaiah seems to have taken a political rather than policy decision to keep off from mutt which includes Sri Krishna temple. It is a known fact that he is not an atheist as he keeps visiting Hindu mutts and temples. But he, being the voice of Kurubas so far in the state, chose to ignore the mutt’s invite to the programme, obviously to register his continued resentment over the 2004 Kanaka Gopura controversy. The President’s visit was a private one.  There was no breach of protocol as such by the chief minister. But his rigidity has not gone well with the Udupi Congress leaders, for whom the mutt is not just a religious place but a culture as well as power centre.

Some time ago, Social Welfare MInsiter H Anjaneya, a Dalit, had been to the mutt. The Pejawar seer had personally served him food. Siddaramaiah seems to be misled by some of his advisors, is the reading in the Congress. Anjaneya has often said that poor in all communities including among Brahmins should be given reservation facility.

HOW INCLUSIVE?

Siddramaiah, in the budget for the current year, has stated, “Ours is an all inclusive, universal development model with a human face. To supplement this in the last four budgets I have put forth before the people an extensive economic framework for social justice – one of the objectives of our Constitution.”

In this universal development plan of his, it looks he is not ready to take note of poverty, talent or needs of all communities. His focus has been mainly to position himself as a ‘giver’. He has announced free laptops to SC/ST students pursuing college education not just in government colleges but even in private colleges, free bus passes to SC/ST students, increasing the subsidy to these community people who purchase taxis, tractors and construct houses and freely distribute seeds to SC/ST farmers.

The government has been giving handsome financial assistance to SC/ST students who wish to pursue higher education in foreign countries. There are no pre or post conditions to the students while offering lakhs of rupees. The social and agricultural departments have been asked to select 1,000 SC/ST farmers to foreign tour this year. Special provisions have been made to financially strengthen societies managed by the SC/STs and OBC. There is already the reservation for these castes in government housing schemes and even in allocation BDA sites.

He has announced that the government would provide shoes and socks for only SC/ST students pursuing vocational courses in Industrial Training Institutes. Nearly Rs 10.22 crore is expected to be spent to cover 10,000 students. The students are also supposed to get free toolkits for which the budget is Rs 47.84 crore. 

In 2013, the government had decided to send only SC/ST school students on free tours by the tourism department. After being criticised for blatantly indulging in discrimination, the facility was extended to students of all castes.

He has not stopped at that. He wants to provide boiled eggs to only SC/ST girl children to attract them to Anganwadi centres in villages. The caste based identification drive is yet to begin. When it comes to giving free mid-day meal, milk, textbooks, uniform clothes and bicycles to students, there is no caste-divide. However, only SC/ST students get annual cash assistance and bags from the government. And, this practice was not initiated by Siddaramaiah.

LARGER PLANS

Siddaramaiah has much bigger plans in the months to come before going to the polls.  After releasing the socio-economic survey report, which is popularly known as caste survey, he will take up the exercise to increase the reservation ceiling from the present 50% to 70%. For this to happen, the Constitutional amendment is required. He has already announced that when Tamil Nadu can exceed the 50% reservation ceiling, why not Karnataka increase the quota.

One of the intentions, according to the Congress, is to bring the Kurubas, who are now under the OBC category, to the ST category. In addition, certain sub-castes under Lingayats and Vokkaligas may be pushed under the OBC category.  His ‘caste plans’ may not materialise easily. But he is sure to prepare forum for a caste-based polity.

The Siddaramaiah government has already questioned the Supreme Court direction on the reservation in promotions to the state government employees. The court had ruled that the Karnataka Determination of Seniority of Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the posts of the civil services of the state) Act, 2002 is invalid. There can be no consequential seniority to the SC/ST employees, it has observed.

The government is in a hurry to get the President’s assent to the Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurements (Amendment) Bill, 2016. This has provision to provide reservation for civil contractors belonging to the SC/ST categories while grating projects up to Rs 50 lakh. Minister Anjaneya last week met the President to seek his assent.

CONSOLIDATION

With all these and more, it has become obvious that Siddaramaiah is trying his best to consolidate his position as Ahinda leader. The Opposition party leaders say he has nothing else but to play caste card in the next elections because he is aware that he has to continue to bank only on the 62% of the voting population. If this is the calculation of the Congress too, then it may not be correct because the BJP could come to power in 2008 in the state because it also got the support of Dalits and Vokkaligas.

Shivakumar Udasi, who belongs to powerful Lingayat caste, argues that there is a perception among the public that Siddaramaiah is serving only his community. Socialist Siddaramaiah should have emerged as the voices of the masses by going in for inclusive growth. He is not doing ‘walk the talk’, the MP says.

“If he is really the champion of the oppressed, then he should have written to Sonia Gandhi to support the OBC bill in Rajya Sabha. It has provision to set up National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, with judicial power and Constitutional status. As the Congress opposed the bill, it has been referred to a joint select committee,” Udasi points out.

Horatti says, “Siddaramaiah is playing bad caste politics. Young minds should not be corrupted on the lines of caste. It is said there is instruction for officials and ministers to ignore files put up by Jalebi (in Kannada abbreviation for Gowda, Lingayat, Brahmins and Jains). For him, caste matters and not poverty. His approach is bound to backfire in the elections.”

But a seasoned politician such as Siddaramaiah knows how to play his cards, be it caste card or ‘Bhagya cards’. If Siddaramaiah really wants to know the results of social engineering exercise he has carried out, he should assess the impact of the ‘Bhagya’ schemes and freebies he has distributed over the last four years. Scientific evaluation can throw light on the structural changes that might have taken place due to his thinking and planning. That would be a bold and positive move.



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