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Karnataka polls: What is Caste Plus- the factor trumping caste politics?

By Anusha Ravi

Poll-bound Karnataka, where caste is a non-negotiable factor for non-urban voters, is likely to witness an evolution of sorts as development, infrastructure (both social and physical) and job creation among other issues are expected to be added to the list of preferences in the upcoming 2018 elections, analysts say.

Karnataka polls: What is Caste Plus- the factor trumping caste politics?

Broadly termed as 'caste-plus'-the concept, analysts and political leaders, say would go beyond identity politics this time around in Karnataka, where caste has been central from mobilising support, choosing candidates to finally being elected.

Analysts say that rural voters will now add development, job creation and infrastructure to its checklist before they cast their votes, which was earlier limited to caste followed by the candidate.

"The development agenda of a party, the perception of the work done by a ruling party and response of voters to the appeal of a leadership are all factors that often can trump caste preferences," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University.

Karnataka is home to some of the most backward and arid regions in the country with abysmal social and economic indicators. But caste continued to determine voter behaviour which led major political parties to field candidates belonging to majority communities in select constituencies.

Though there are over 1300 caste groups, Lingayats and Vokkaligas are believed to be the biggest and most influential in the state--reasons why a majority of the chief ministers of Karnataka, since independence, have hailed from these two communities.

Siddaramaiah, who stormed to power in 2013 with his AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) support base, has tried to challenge the dominant caste narrative when he commissioned the 2015 caste census. The data is yet to be officially released.

"Caste plus is most appealing for fence-sitters. Development, the nature of development with Caste, is what they look at when they cast their vote," said A Narayana, political analyst and Professor of Public Policy, Azim Premji University.

Since all parties have community leaders, the Congress is hoping that its investments under Article 371 (J), which accords a special status to Hyderabad-Karnataka region, and other welfare schemes around food security and social justice, will help the party.

Lingayats have favoured the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader B S Yeddyurappa, also from the community. Vokkaligas are seen to side with the Janata Dal (Secular) led by former Prime Minister H D Devegowda.

However, caste plus is not limited to voters. The phenomenon is being used by political parties to gauge the winnability factor of their candidates and introduce region-specific programs. "Voters now think beyond their caste and about jobs, development, progress in their villages and towns plus the candidate," said Dinesh Gundu Rao, Working President, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).

Karnataka Assembly Election dates
Date of notification April 17
Last date to file nominations April 24
Last date to withdraw nominations April 27
Date of polling May 12
Date of counting May 15

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