Bommai Karnataka reservation
Karnataka Chief Minister B Bommai has demanded that the Maharashtra CM take immediate action to merge the villages of Jath and Akkalkot taluks with Karnataka | File Image

Karnataka BJP eyes TN model to hike quotas, with eye on 2023 polls

A year ahead of Assembly election, emulating Tamil Nadu political parties’ blueprint of wooing backward communities appears more effective than UP’s ‘bulldozer model’

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The ruling BJP in Karnataka is busy chalking out strategies to face next year’s Assembly elections in the state and its main focus is to woo the SC/ST, backward, and Lingayat subsect Panchamasali.

This time, the Basavaraj Bommai government has tried to follow the Tamil Nadu model of reservation to balance caste equations in the state.

Earlier, Bommai was mulling adopting the Uttar Pradesh model to bulldoze ‘unauthorised’ constructions mostly belonging to the minority community, and to keep away those opposing the government. Today, a year ahead of polls, the Tamil Nadu model of wooing backward and SC/ST appears more viable to the ruling party.

Also read: BJP’s trust deficit with Lingayats may give Congress a chance in Karnataka

Tamil Nadu has gone for 69% reservation when other states have not breached the Supreme Court’s 50% ceiling.

50% quota ceiling breached

To introduce its 69% quota, the Tamil Nadu government fought legally for many years. It introduced a Bill in 1993 and got it approved by the President the same year. Now, the state has a total of 69% reservation while Uttar Pradesh has kept its at 60% and the Union government has not crossed the 50% cap.

Recently, the Karnataka government took a unanimous decision to increase reservation for SCs from 15% to 17% and for STs from 3% to 7%.

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After chairing a meeting of leaders of both Houses to discuss Justice Nagamohan Das Committee’s report on hiking the quota for SCs and STs, Bommai said that there has been a long pending demand to increase reservations based on the population. Accordingly, it was unanimously decided to increase the reservations such that the total has now touched 56%, against  50% earlier.

Legal protection

According to the Supreme Court’s verdict in 2007 on Schedule 9 of the Constitution, in case of any infringement of fundamental rights, legal immunity may be given. So, to give legal protection to the decision on the reservation percentage hike, the Karnataka law ministry will look into further processes to come under Schedule 9.

Sources in the Karnataka government told The Federal that steps have been taken to mollify the Panchamasalis, who are demanding to be included in the backward community. They want to be categorised under 2A, which would give the community 15% reservation in education and jobs. Now, they are in the 3B category, which provides 5% reservation. They have been protesting about this for two years.

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The BJP government is not in a position to fulfil their demand as Bommai and former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa have remained helpless about the issue. And this has irked the Panchamasalis and their leaders like Basanagouda Patil Yatnal.

The saffron party is mainly dependent on Lingayat votes and the Panchamasalis are the deciding factors in around 60 Assembly constituencies in north Karnataka.

The Kuruba factor

At the same time, the Kurubas (shepherds) also have a demand of getting added to the ST list. Karnataka’s third-biggest community, Kurubas had earlier organised a padayatra and dharnas for this, led by senior BJP leader and former minister KS Eshwarappa. The majority of Kurubas follow their leader Siddaramaiah of the Congress but the BJP wants to divide the community and woo its youngsters.

So, incorporating the Panchamasalis in 2A category and moving Kurubas from 2A to ST reservations could be a gamechanger and even a small mistake could upset the BJP’s political calculations.

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At the same time, the smaller communities from the economically weaker sections will be under threat if a change is made. There are already 102 castes listed in the 2A category in Karnataka and there are economically weaker communities than the Panchamasalis and Kurubas. They may get affected if the government errs.

Sources said that the BJP’s current thinking is to test the waters legally on increasing the SC/ST reservations up to a total of 6% and getting legal sanctity under Schedule 9 with the help of the BJP government at the Centre. If all goes well, they can include the Panchamasali reservation under 2A category by increasing the percentage for backward classes in 2A following the Tamil Nadu model.

Banking on caste equations

Moving Kurubas to ST is not so easy and the government will not go for it at the moment. But it will make it an election agenda for the 2023 manifesto and thus keep Kurubas’ hopes alive, a BJP senior leader told The Federal.

Also read: Lingayat mathas: Agents of change or alternative power centres?

For the 2023 Assembly elections in the state, the Karnataka BJP will bank on caste equations rather than keeping the Hindu-Muslim and national issues alive.

Though anti-incumbency factors are working against the government and the Congress is gaining momentum in Karnataka, the BJP still believes caste and communal equations will help the party retain power.

“Following the Tamil Nadu model of reservation will help the BJP government to get legal sanctity,” a legal expert opined.

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