Basavaraj Bommai
Bommai clarified that no BJP leader has engaged in any activities to topple the government I File photo

2023 Karnataka polls: BJP govt in a fix as fresh quota demands pile up

The ruling Basavaraj Bommai government in Karnataka is feeling the heat of ‘caste reservations’, with the Vokkaligas, Panchamasalis, Kurubas and Edigas stepping up the demand to either increase their reservation percentage or include them in other categories.

Vokkaligas are demanding a hike in their reservation from 4 to 12 per cent and the Panchamasali community is demanding the government to include them in the 2A reservation category, and mounting pressure on the Chief Minister for the same. The more worrying factor is that the Kuruba community wants to move into the ST category even as the Ediga community wants to move to Category 1 (both come under 2A).

As the 2023 Assembly elections draw near, the state government cannot do anything except offer assurances. The demand for reservations has derailed the BJP’s election strategy of wooing castes and communities, other than playing its Hindutva card.

Revising the reservation matrix

In October, the state cabinet decided to increase the Scheduled Caste (SC) quota from 15 per cent to 17 per cent and that for Scheduled Caste (ST) from 3 per cent to 7 per cent as recommended by the Justice Nagamohan Das Commission, set up by the former Congress government. The increase will take the total reservations in Karnataka beyond the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court in the 1992 Indra Sawhney case.

Though there was no big demand for it, the BJP government revised the reservation matrix in the state and made it law through an ordinance in an apparent poll ploy to appease SCs and STs. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s recent nod to the Centre’s EWS reservation of 10 per cent through a constitutional amendment, which pushed the overall reservation to 59.50 per cent, made some castes and communities demand the hike in reservation.

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It is a fact that it is not easy to increase the reservation percentage and move castes into the ST category — this is what the seers and leaders representing them demand. The Backward Commission has to do a proper study about the status of those communities and has to recommend the government accordingly. However, there is not much time to do all these things. Also, it will be a ‘stoning-at-a-beehive’ exercise for the government as they are all sensitive issues likely to stir up a hornet’s nest.

Vokkaligas: The deciding factor in the Old Mysuru region

Vokkaligas, the politically influential community which mainly spread in the Old Mysuru region, had a rally recently in the state capital over the current 3A category. The community’s seers put forward their old demand of increasing their reservation from 4 to 12 per cent, which was supported by political leaders. They set a deadline of January 23 for the government’s response to their demand over the hike in reservation.

The seers included Nirmalanandanatha Swami of Adichunchanagiri Mutt, Nanjavadhoota Swami of Spatikapuri Mutt, and Chandrashekharanatha Swami of Vishva Vokkaliga Mahasmsthana Mutt. They remarked that they had waited enough and threatened to launch a protest if their demands are not met. Vokkaligas are the deciding factor for any political parties in the Old Mysuru region. Interestingly, politicians from across the party lines, including Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief DK Shivakumar, former Union Minister DV Sadananda Gowda and BJP Ministers R Ashoka and K Sudhakar were present during the recent rally.

As the Vokkaligas figure on the reservation chart after the Lingayat community with a percentage of 16, they are in no mood to relent. They argue that the state has already crossed the 50 per cent threshold; the reservation tally in the state now stands at 56 per cent. With the union government’s 10 per cent reservation to EWS, their demand has become only more vociferous.

The Panchamasali factor

Meanwhile, the Lingayat subsect Panchamasalis, who are staging protests and mounting pressure on the state government repeatedly, have now decided to hold a huge rally on December 12 to seek 2A status in the OBC reservation category. Lingayats, at present, are under the 3B category and they are the major chunk of the vote bank for the BJP in the state. Panchamasalis constitute about 60 per cent of the Lingayat community and the government is under pressure to concede. But it is not easy for the government to get an ethnographic study done and it seems incredibly tough under the current circumstances.

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The recent rally at Gokak organised at the behest of the Panchamasali community, led by Kudala Sangama seer Basava Jaya Mruthyunajaya Swami, threatened a “Chalo Bengaluru’ protest this month. The worrying factor for the BJP is that its MLAs, including Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, are demanding the same and openly participating in the protests. Panchamasalis are crucial factors in around 60 Assembly constituencies in the North Karnataka region.

Kuruba and Ediga

At the same time, Kuruba and Ediga communities who come under the 2A category demand the government to move them to ST category and Category 1, respectively, to get the benefits for their communities.

Arya Ediga Rashtriya Mahamandal president and Bhrahmashree Narayana Guru Shakti Peetha seer Pranavananda Swami is demanding the government to move them to category 1; they are planning to arrange a padayatra from Mangalore to Bengaluru on January 6, 2023, demanding the same. Also called as ‘Billava’, it is a dominant community a majority of which supports the BJP.

Kurubas, on the other hand, are demanding to be moved to the ST category from 2A. They form the fourth dominant community in Karnataka and have been staging various protests and Dharas under the leadership of Kanaka Gurupeetha Seer Niranjananandapuri Swamiji and former BJP Minister KS Eshwarppa.

Sources in the BJP said that fulfilling these demands is not an easy task, but if they remain unmet, they will affect the party in the next Assembly election. Though the party is wooing Vokkaligas, Backward classes, and SC/STs through various conventions and progammes, the reservation demands are making things tough for the BJP ahead of elections, along with other issues like corruption, anti-incumbency factor, etc.

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