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Dalits show love for the Congress in Karnataka, but slightly more for the BJP

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While the state’s Dalits have traditionally been Congress voters, they have also aligned with the BJP in the past, and produced a photo finish this time.

New Delhi: The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had a neck-and-neck fight on seats reserved for Dalit candidates in the Karnataka assembly elections.

Of the 36 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, the BJP won 14, but the Congress finished only marginally behind with 13 seats. Seven went to the JD(S), one to its ally Bahujan Samaj Party, and one to an independent candidate.


Dalits in Karnataka politics

At 23 per cent of the population, Dalits have been playing a decisive role in Karnataka verdicts over the years. However, there has been a lot of variation in Dalit voting patterns — while they have traditionally been Congress supporters, they have also aligned with the BJP in the past. This is despite the fact that the state has a history of sustained movements for the upliftment of backward classes and Dalits, which have opposed the ideological positions of the BJP.

In 2008, when the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 110 seats and went on to form a government that lasted a full term, it managed to win 22 reserved seats, with eight going to the Congress.

Then, in 2013, when the Congress won a majority on its own with 122 seats, it won 17 reserved seats to the BJP’s six and the JD(S)’s nine.

Reasons for BJP’s gains

The BJP’s gains among Dalit voters can be attributed to several attempts made by its leaders to woo the community. Top leaders like B.S. Yeddyurappa have stayed in Dalit homes and shared meals with them.

This time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the Congress over the condition of Dalits in the state, trying to wean them away from Siddaramaiah’s planned ‘AHINDA’ consolidation of minorities, backward classes and Dalits.

“The Congress has no respect for Ambedkar. They did everything to defeat him in the 1952 general elections and the bypoll to the Bhandara parliamentary constituency in 1953,” he had told party workers through the NaMo app last Thursday.

BSP’s position

The BSP was able to dent the Congress’s Dalit vote share in the last election. This time around, while it won just one seat of the 18 it contested, there’s a growing belief that its support for the JD(S) proved key in some seats.

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