Karnataka polls: BJP ends Panchamasali stir with quota hike, but issue isn’t over yet

Community leaders and supporters are clearly unhappy, seeing the appeasement as an election gimmick

Panchamasalis, seer Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya,
Panchamasali seer Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya addressing the media after calling off the protest temporarily. He is flanked by BJP leader Basanagowda Patil Yatnal (left) and Congress leader Vijayananda Kashappanavar on his right. File photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah may have “temporarily” succeeded in bringing the curtains down on the two-year-old Panchamasali movement in Karnataka. But, the overhaul of the reservation policy in Karnataka, purportedly done to appease the Panchamasalis, the largest sub-sect of the powerful Lingayat community, is bound to run into legal complications.

However, political observers felt that this move by the Karnataka government, which has been done with an eye firmly on the Assembly elections, may just backfire on them. This is largely because the Panchamasali leaders who led the protests are still unhappy and not completely convinced that the reservation quota for their community will see the light of day.

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Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peeth seer Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya, who has been leading the protests to demand reservation for the Panchamasali community under 2A reservation (OBC) in education and government jobs, called off his two 32-month protest ‘temporarily’.

In an interaction with the media, he said Modi and Shah had intervened to help add 2% more reservation to the new 2D category created especially for Lingayats by abolishing the 3B category (while the 2C category has been set aside for Vokkaligas).

The Lingayats already had a 5 per cent quota in education and jobs. With the new revision, the percentage has gone up to 7 per cent, though the demand was to increase it to 15 per cent based on the percentage of the Lingayat population.

Also read: Karnataka: Muslim leaders to move court against abolition of 4% quota

Panchamasali seer, Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya,
The seer Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya was in tears while addressing the media

A seer in tears

The seer, who cried in front of the media, clearly unhappy about ending the stir, said that it was BJP leader Basanagowda Patil Yatnal who was called to Delhi by the high command and  convinced to settle the issue.

“God has blessed us with 2 per cent reservation. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Due to the upcoming election, we cannot continue with the protests. I don’t know which government will come to power next. The result of our struggle has now benefited the entire Lingayat community. Let’s continue the struggle after the election is over,” he said.

Further, he added that “if” the implementation of the new quota is successful, he would personally meet Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Modi and honour them.

A worrying factor 

So, on the face of it, it seems like the BJP has succeeded in ending the “worrying” two-year-long protest of the Panchamasali community.

The Panchamasalis make up 60 per cent of the Lingayat community and are important in nearly 50 Assembly constituencies in the north Karnataka region. This sub-sect was becoming a major threat for the BJP since the Lingayats have been supporting the BJP for many years.

Shobha Karandlaje, Panchamasali seer
Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Shobha Karandlaje, was sent by the high command to meet the seer, Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya, to influence his decision to end the protests.

According to political sources, the seer was clearly under pressure from the BJP to call off the protest. The BJP central leadership called Yatnal to Delhi to discuss the troubling issue and later sent Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje to meet the seer to influence his decision.

Notably, Yatnal, who belongs to the anti-BS Yediyurappa faction in the state BJP unit, was leading the Panchamasali protests, while Congress leader Vijayananda Kashappanavar was the national resident of a committee called the Panchamasali Horata Samiti fighting for reservation for the Panchamasalis.

Earlier, seer Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami and Harihar Panchamasali Peeta’s Vachanananda Swami were at the forefront leading the protest demanding 2A status for the Panchamasalis and the community’s inclusion in the Centre’s OBC list. Later, BJP MLA Murugesh Nirani and ministers CC Patil were also part of the movement.

However, Nirani was made a minister in the BSY cabinet and Yatnal and Kashappanavar started steering the protests under the leadership of the seers. Vachanananda seer later quit the movement and it was believed that he did so largely under pressure from Nirani and the BJP to weaken the Panchamasali protests.

However, Yatnal stood by Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami. Their protests picked up momentum and continued for a year and threatened to divide the vote base of the Lingayats for the BJP. This fear prompted the BJP to give in and include the Lingayats in OBC category 2D and give them 2 per cent more quota by scrapping the 4 per cent reservation for the Muslim community under the 2B category.

Voices against ending protests

Some leaders of the Panchmasali community are upset over the fact that the protests have been discontinued.

Former MLA Vijayananda Kashappanavar openly stated that he is against the decision and quit his post as national president of the organising committee. He even walked out of a meeting convened by the Panchamasali leaders.

Also read: Karnataka polls: Congress’ first list has a few surprises; stumps BJP, JD-S

According to Kashappanavar, they had asked for 15 per cent reservation; instead, 2 per cent has been added to the earlier 5 per cent. “It can be an election strategy. We don’t need reservations by taking it away from other communities. They took the reservation quota from Muslims and gave it to us,” he said, adding that by doing this the BJP is trying to create a fight between Muslims and Panchamasalis.

Political observers felt that the BJP strategy was to weaken the Panchamasali protests by ending the stir which led to Kashappanavar quitting his post. The plan is to ostensibly hint that Congress is behind this divide among the Lingayats.

Predictably, BJP national general secretary BL Santosh tweeted, “Cong leader resigns after seers heading the agitation take back their stir for reservations after Govt increased Lingayat reservation by 2 per cent. The Cong card of sowing dissent once again falls flat.”

According to political analyst D Mahadevappa, the Panchamasali issue will continue to be a threat to the BJP in the 2023 Assembly election. “Though the government succeeded in putting an end to the protests, their solution is not a permanent one and may not stand legally. And so, the Panchamasalis are not completely convinced that this reservation quota will materialise and realise that it has been done to benefit the BJP electorally,” he said.

Overcoming legal hurdles

The reservation quota increase for the Panchamasalis was made possible after the Karnataka High Court on March 23 vacated an interim order given to the state government. This interim order, which had directed the state government to maintain the status quo regarding the 2C and 2D reservation to Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities, was issued after DG Raghavendra filed a public interest petition in the High Court.

In his petition, he had argued that “2A reservation should not be given to the Lingayat Panchamasali community and the state government should be prevented from encouraging the individual demands submitted by sub-castes and community tribes to change the reservation category.”

The HC, which heard the petition, gave an interim order to the state government to maintain the status quo. After which, the state government’s hands were tied and their efforts to create Category 2A, 2C or 2D categories were temporarily blocked. However, a Central government solicitor argued for the government giving an assurance to the court that no changes will be made to the 2 A reservation, which was kept for OBCs.

The HC subsequently vacated the interim order paving the way for the state government to distribute the 4 per cent reservation for Muslims to the Vokkaligas and Lingayats just before the state elections.

However, legal experts said that Muslim leaders are all set to move the court and the cancellation of Muslim reservations under 2 B will be stayed. According to them, this decision will not hold legally and it is merely an ‘eye-wash’ before the elections.

Constitutional expert and senior advocate BT Venkatesh told The Federal that any change in the reservation policy has to be done after proper research and the government cannot  arbitrarily distribute the reservation quota to any community.

“In this particular case, where is the policy or reason to cancel the reservation for Muslims  and distribute it to Vokkaligas and Lingayats? A proper study by the Backward Class Commission has to be conducted and the results have to be analysed in an open forum and then the policy has to be made. This has to be tabled in the Assembly. You cannot just push something through,” he said.

However, as Karnataka goes to the polls on May 10, it seems, political parties will undertake any kind of gamble to garner votes.