In its quest to win the 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls, the BJP has embarked on a strategy of identifying sub-groups within the backward classes in the state, who are not allied with any political party, in order to win their support.
A few days ago, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced a slew of initiatives, including the creation of a study chair at Tumkur University in the name of a deity revered by small OBC groups in Karnataka, as well as special units, construction of hostels, and allocation of funds for the welfare of smaller OBC groups.
This is similar to the strategy the BJP has adopted in recent times in states like Uttar Pradesh, where it has focused on smaller backward class groups instead of dominant ones like the Yadavs, who are allied to other political parties.
The OBC population in Karnataka, estimated to be around 33%, is usually seen as voting en bloc for the Congress. What the BJP is counting on are the over 100 sub-communities among the OBCs, to broaden its base beyond its traditional Lingayat vote bank and a section of the Dalit and tribal communities.
The largest of the OBC groups in Karnataka are the Kurubas. A traditional herding community who are dispersed around the state, they comprise around 8% of the OBC population. Kurubas are seen to be ardent supporters of Congress leader and former CM Siddaramaiah, who is a Kuruba. The Congress is banking on them to stay with the party.
The BJP’s initiatives are focused on the non-Kuruba and other groups who don’t traditionally vote for the Congress.
On August 26, Bommai announced that the Karnataka government would soon set up a Sri Chennigaraya Swamy Study Chair at Tumkur University, for the study of history of communities who revere the deity Chennigaraya Swamy. Speaking at an event organised by the OBC Tigala community, he said the birth anniversary of their deity, Agni Banniraya Swamy, would now be celebrated by the government.
The BJP leader also said at the event that Rs 400 crore had been set aside by the government for the welfare of the Tigala, Mali, Maalagara, Kinbara and other OBC communities involved in agricultural work.
The state government has, besides, planned a special unit in the Karnataka Backward Classes Welfare Department to focus only on the development and welfare of these OBC communities, Bommai said. Student hostels for them would be set up in Tumkur, Bengaluru Rural, and Ramanagara regions, at a cost of Rs 4.45 crore.
“You need not enter politics, but you must support those who will strengthen your community. In a democracy, every community has an equal role to play and there are plenty of opportunities. The time has come to ponder why facilities have not been provided for the development of all the communities,” Bommai said.
Earlier, in April this year, former Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa had stated that he would speak to Bommai to provide land for building a temple and cultural hall in the name of Tigala deity Agni Banniraya Swami in the Tumkur region.
In the state budget too, CM Bommai had unveiled programmes worth Rs 400 crore directed at various small OBC groups.