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Karnataka: Dalit Leaders Urge Unity in Karnataka as Internal Quota Issue Looms

The issue was raised at a conference by dalit leaders in Bengaluru on July 13.
G Parameshwar

G Parameshwar

Dalit leaders organised a sahodaratva samavesha (conference of brotherhood) in Bengaluru's Ambedkar Bhawan on July 13. The conference aimed to put forth the community's demands to the newly minted Congress government in the state.

Home Minister G Parameshwar and KH Muniyappa, minister for food and civil supplies, were the chief guests. The dominant theme of the conference was to build unity among the dalits of Karnataka. However, the question of internal reservation threatens to break up any such possibility.

The long-standing issue of internal reservation was immediately brought up by Hennur Srinivas. A leader from the Madiga community, he was one of many leaders from the dalit community who joined Congress in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly elections. In Karnataka, the dalit communities are divided into four administrative categories. Categories 1 and 2 are referred to as left hand and right hand. Category 3 has communities like Banjaras, lambanis, and Bhovis. Category 4 is made up of nomadic communities.

In private conversations, the leaders from the Madiga community believe that a bulk of the reservation is being cornered by Banjaras and Bhovis. However, there is no data or report to support this claim.

The Justice Sadashiva Commission report (on reclassifying scheduled caste reservation) was submitted in 2012 but was not tabled in the Assembly by any government. It is not a public document. The only facts of the report are based on a press release filed after the submission of the report.

The commission is in favour of reclassifying SC reservations. While the activists from Category 1 and 2 communities favour internal reservation, Banjaras and Bhovis (from Category 3) are not. The nomadic communities (category 4) are so under-represented and scattered that they cannot organise their communities or form pressure groups.

Ananth Naik, a lawyer and a member of the Banjara community, says that internal reservations are unconstitutional.

Speaking to NewsClick, he said, "The Kantharaj commission report has the socio-economic survey of the state as well as the caste census. The government must release it to provide clarity on the population of every community. Presently, there is no provision in the constitution to provide internal reservation. Moreover, in EV Chinnaiah V State of Andhra Pradesh (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that the state government does not have legislative powers to provide internal reservation. Only the Parliament can look into it."

"Conference for Brotherhood"

Speaking at the conference, Srinivas reminded the audience about the history of the movement for internal reservation.

"Under pressure from groups like DSS and BSP, SM Krishna set up a commission to look into the issue of internal reservation. That commission was later dissolved. In the subsequent election, Dharam Singh became the Chief Minister and set up the Justice Sadashiva Commission (in 2005). In 2012, the commission submitted the report and concluded that reservations should be made based on population figures. However, the then-BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government did not act on the report. CM Siddaramaiah was also scared to introduce internal reservation, and he lost his seat as a result (in 2018)."

He addressed the issue of the BJP announcing increased SC/ST quotas and internal reservation in the run-up to the Assembly election.

"After six months of discussions, we officially joined the Congress party (in 2023) because we felt there was a possibility to unite all 101 scheduled castes. That same night the BJP government sent a recommendation to the Central government urging them to include the increased SC/ST quotas under Schedule 9 of the Constitution. They announced that the internal reservation was also fulfilled. But it was a lie because the internal reservation was contingent on the passage of the law in Parliament to increase SC/ST quotas. We now demand that the state government send a recommendation to the Central government to pass internal quotas on the lines of the recommendations in the Justice Sadashiva commission."

On January 8, the Congress held a conference in Chitradurga called the ekta samavesha (conference for unity). They passed a nine-point charter called the "Chitradurga Declaration". The first point is a promise by the party to table the Justice Sadashiva Commission report during the first session of the Assembly. It remains to be seen whether the government will do so.

Parameshwar, the Home Minister of Karnataka, also addressed the conference in Bengaluru.

"Our seniors in the party requested KH Muniyappa to celebrate the birthday of Jagjivan Ram. I was requested to celebrate the birthday of Dr Ambedkar. I refused to accept this request and told Muniyappa to refuse it because they (the party) are propagating destructive policies, and we must not accept it. I told them I could read between the lines. Jagjivan Ram is left hand (from the Chamar/Madiga caste), and Dr Ambedkar is (from) right hand. We decided that all 101 SC communities would celebrate the programs together. I also suggested that we include ST communities in the celebration. We organised the ekta samavesha (unity conference) in Chitradurga. We wanted to send a message to the state. There were lakhs of people in attendance. We sent a message of strength in unity. After this, everyone started speaking about the unity of sc/st communities in the state. There is no left, right or centre."

He also made a thinly veiled dig at DK Shivakumar and once again pitched his hat in the ring for Chief Minister.

"I was the KPCC (Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee) President when the Congress party won the election in 2013. But nobody said that the party came to power under my leadership. I did not say it anywhere, either. Today, there are many claims that the party has come to power under the leadership of one person or another. The loss of 2018 has taught us a lesson. We must lose the inferiority complex. That's why I always say that I should become the chief minister. Why should I not? Muniyappa should also be the chief minister. Are we lacking in any abilities?"

As the crowd cheered, the Home Minister also promised to amend the PTCL and Land Reforms Act and look into the diversion of funds earmarked for SC/ST communities. All these points are mentioned in the Chitradurga Declaration.

Dalit groups in the state have pressured the Congress party to act on its promises. It remains to be seen how CM Siddaramaiah would navigate the minefield.

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