If Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah succeeds in getting from the Centre a sanction to turn challenger BS Yeddyurappa’s caste of Lingayats into a separate religion with a ‘minority’ tag, it may still not affect the BJP’s poll prospects, dependent as it is on ‘Hindu’ votes that may react to the State’s ruling party negatively, with a sense of hurt. In the long run, however, it will drive another wedge in society already smarting from several fault lines.

The divide and rule principle has been played out on the subcontinent over many chapters and centuries. In recent history, the Mughals did it, but then they were kings. The British used it too, but then they were imperialists. Democratic, with universal-suffrage, independent India, born after a bloody partition that killed half a million people, accelerated the pace, cynically prostituting divide-and-rule in order to live off the proceeds. In 70 years of a professed secularism, in lofty if unrealistic terms, at first, turned, in the latter day, into blatant rod and staff to suit.

And now, the work has begun to break-up and exploit the biggest chunk of the population, an unwieldy and variegated 80% odd. Being easier to suborn the minorities, the Hindu majority was left mostly unaddressed so far, except for the upheavals of casteism. It was even discriminated against, constitutionally, and with impunity, for long years.

Now, threatened with electoral oblivion, the Congress politician seeks, at the top of the marquee, to distinguish between their self-serving version of Hinduism’s all-embracing liberal face; and a supposedly fascist, theocratic Hindutva, allegedly being projected by the very successful BJP.

In the detail, the idea is to pit mahant against seer, godman against lay zealots, and confusion against convolution.

Never mind that the same cheeseparing politicians make no attempt to reconcile the growing and sinister fundamentalism and jihadi element in the largest national minority, despite the dormant peace projection of Islam. And the daily battle of attrition in a sedition-riddled Jammu & Kashmir.

A consolidated Hindu vote is a nightmare for the opposition that could sweep all before it, and recent showings of a 50% vote share in some places for the BJP have shaken things up. It is causing disparate elements to try and coalesce in a bid to survive.

Every division, every appeasement must, therefore, gradually rear its ugly head now. It is on the table for political leverage without apology. The whole caboodle and anything new one can think of — language, caste, religion, region, urban-rural divisions, farmer distress, student unrest, the armed forces, ageism, water, infiltration at the borders, external threats from China and Pakistan, economic issues, data collection and theft, phoney issues of intolerance and freedom of expression, foreign policy, age-old communist and Maoist insurrection. And now, sects and sections within religions — particularly the Hindu religion!

It could, of course, be an attempt to right ancient wrongs. Reservation, quotas, subsidies, write-offs, even bloody clashes, could all be seen as a consequence of uneven growth and division of the spoils, or reasonably, just as the other face of affirmative action.

It could also be regarded, more hard-heartedly, as the craven exploitation of vote banks in a country that adopted universal suffrage and has grown its population threefold since independence. A lot of young Indians are joining the electorate every year. They are the target, with equal measures of disaffection and nationalism to motivate their voting behaviour.

And then, if a leg up is good for the goose, how can the gander be left out? So much so, the only logical way ahead in 2018 is to plunge on regardless, for there is no turning back the clock. This seems to be the course chosen by the BJP, ruling along with the NDA at the centre, in the matter of the 59 lakh Lingayats of Karnataka with the 90 sub-castes, constituting 9.8% of the population. This is per a disputed 2016 survey carried out by the Backward Classes Commission at the instance of Siddaramaiah.

BS Yeddyurappa

Does Siddaramaiah’s demand for the proclamation of a “separate religion” cover all shades of these Lingayats, or just ones that came to him or his surveyors? And are the Lingayats just 9.8% or 17% of the total, as is being popularly suggested today?

The same logic could apply to the Gorkhas in Darjeeling on another day, agitating for long for a separate State apart from West Bengal. And it has already created Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh.

Or, indeed to the 1.08 crore Scheduled Caste population, the biggest “group” constituting 18% of the total in Karnataka, with 180 sub-castes amongst them.  One can be sure this group is being canvassed vigorously by the BJP irrespective of their true number.

Then, there are the 49 lakh Vokkaligas with 10 sub-castes (8.16% of the total per the 2016 survey and 12% otherwise), or the 43 lakh Kurubas who have already called out for minority status of their own too.

Even the Muslims of Karnataka ( 12.5% of the total ), have 84 sub-castes amongst their 75 lakh population. These figures were published by a Kannada television channel Public TV, some websites and even the Times of India in April 2016. While the numbers may vary, it is true enough that the Lingayats, the Vokkaligas and the Muslims are found in concentrations in the State, and will affect the electoral fortunes of all contenders.

Karnataka is going to polls on 12 May. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is about to fight the most significant political election of his career. He is at the head of one of just two remaining big States in the Congress fold, and a loss will severely damage his own political future and have the Congress Party staring at near extinction from the political arena.

Siddaramaiah came to his present elevation via several political parties in the State. Most notably, he was with Vokkaliga-heavy  JD(S), and enjoyed two stints as Deputy Chief Minister while there. But on joining the INC and becoming CM in 2013, Siddaramaiah turned on his erstwhile mentors. He poached as many as 7 MLAs. He subverted the loyalties of Gowda clan archrival Ashok Kheny who is also a prominent Karnataka businessman. The JD(S) door is, therefore, most likely closed to the INC in the event of a close election result.

The BJP, which won Karnataka just once before on the back of Lingayat support, was spearheaded then, as it is now, by its strongman BS Yeddyurappa. However, now, with the BJP at the Centre sitting on the decision to award minority status to the Lingayats creating an ambiguity, will they stay with Yeddyurappa? Will the Scheduled Castes and Tribes also vote likewise?

Karnataka has a history of not giving consecutive terms to the same side. JD(S) too, with its loyal votes from about 20% of the electorate, will probably support BJP post-election.

But Karnataka’s 6.15 crore population is being wooed by Siddaramaiah with a lot of regional fervour. And that includes a newly minted State flag and this attempt to split the Lingayat vote. Development, a key BJP plank, is also not the INC’s strong suit. Neither is law and order.

In the long run, the bigger question of reservations, quotas and minorityism could, in effect, be devalued to the point of cancelling each other out. This recognition for all comers without serious resistance disallows much bloodshed and conflict. It is the next best thing to never having begun on this path in the first place.

The cake will just have to grow to accommodate it all. But isn’t that what “vikas” really means? India will soon become the third biggest economy in the world, perhaps as early as 2025, and as late as 2030. There should be more than enough to pay the ever expanding bill.

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