Yediyurappa on sticky wicket as Panchamasalis demand more share in OBC quota

Asking to be included in the 2A category to avail 15% reservation, the Panchamasalis, a subsect of the Lingayat caste, have threatened to withdraw support from the Yediyurappa government if their demands are not fulfilled

A victory in the by-elections would lead to Yediyurappa strengthening his position within the BJP. Of late there have been voices within the party to replace him. | File photo: PTI

The Panchamasali community, one of the dominant subsects of the Lingayat caste, has been pressuring the BS Yediyurappa government to provide them a higher reservation in the caste quota.

Currently, the Panchamasalis are in category 3B with 5 per cent reservation and share it with other caste or religious groups like the Marathas, Jains, and Christians. They now are demanding to be included in category 2A with 102 other caste groups, where they would be entitled to 15 per cent reservation.

Former minister PC Siddanagoudar on Friday (January 19) said close to 10 lakh people will take part in a rally and that their demand was nothing new. “BJP leader and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar constituted a committee under CM Udasi during his tenure in 2012-13. The committee found our demand to be genuine and recommended reservation. But successive governments failed to act,” he added.

Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami, seer of the Lingayat Panchamasali Mutt, who was on a 37-day padayatra, covering 450 km from Bagalkot to Bengaluru, will hold a mega rally in Bengaluru on Sunday.

The seer, who enjoys certain political clout, threatened the chief minister to either implement their demand or face the wrath of the community who’d withdraw support to BSY. The seer says the community members are largely farmers and farm labourers and have lost out on the caste benefit over the years. Hence he says they are pressing for a higher quota within the OBC.

“The CM should implement our demand when the budget session convenes on March 4. After the rally in Bengaluru, we will hold a sit-in protest in front of Vidhana Soudha and if not implemented by March 4, we will resort to an indefinite hunger strike thereafter,” the seer announced.

Yediyurappa’s political decisions during his previous regime in 2008-2013 by allocating more funds to empower these mutts seem to have proved costly. During his tenure back then, the BJP government doled out around ₹400 crore to religious institutions for development works and other activities within and outside Karnataka.

The Lingayat community got the lion’s share of the government’s donations (₹157 crore aggregating to around 40 per cent of the total funds allotted). In certain cases, the allocated funds exceed ten times the permissible amount, violating government guidelines issued in September 2010 that put a cap on such allocations.

Even as the BS Yediyurappa government on Friday said they would discuss the modalities and the way forward with respect to their demands, several caste groups are pressuring the government with a demand for revision in quota, setting a definitive deadline.

All this comes in the backdrop of the government not making the caste census data public. The former chief minister Siddaramaiah-led government spent ₹160 crore in 2015 to conduct a caste census. But that was put to rest by all parties and successive governments fearing a backlash over the report findings.

Already members of the marginalised caste groups in the 2A category like the Edigas, Billavas, and other backward communities, are opposing the 2A reservation tag for Panchamasalis as it would affect them further.

Being a Lingayat himself, the chief minister is in a fix with respect to the community’s demands. The community leaders are angry at the leader for not inducting more Panchamasalis in his cabinet. Of the 11 Lingayat ministers, only two belong to the Panchamasali community while the rest nine are from the Banajiga community to which the chief minister belongs,” one of the community members pointed.

The community members are now rallying behind Basangouda Ramangouda Patil Yatnal, a vociferous critic of BSY and his son. He even raised the reservation issue in the cabinet earlier this month to which the chief minister replied that he did not have powers to decide on the issue as it was a central subject.

He, however, later retracted the statement and said he referred the matter to Karnataka Backward Classes Commission who’d assess the socio-economic condition of Panchamashali Lingayats and submit a report to the government.

To temporarily satisfy the community, the chief minister had formed a Veerashiva-Lingayat Development Board in November last with ₹500 crore allocation. However, the community members allege that chief minister’s son and his supporters control the board and the benefits may not reach them easily.

At a time when the central high command is looking to replace Yediyurappa, the issue could unsettle the chief minister if the government fails to address the issue. And if the government succumbs to their request, other caste groups will up their ante against the government over it and demand an equitable share.