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A Lingayat sub-sect’s quota demand: context, implications

The Lingayats are a dominant community who make up nearly 17% of Karnataka’s six crore population . The community can determine the outcome of polls in as many as 90-100 of the state’s 224 Assembly constituencies.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru |
Updated: February 9, 2021 8:44:56 am
Lingayat, Lingayat community, Lingayat sub-sect, Lingayat obc quota, indian express newsPanchamasali Lingayat seer Jaya Basava Mrythunjaya Swami (in saffron) at a recent protest rally. (Express Photo)

Politics around the Lingayat community has once again taken centre stage in Karnataka, with a section of BJP MLAs and seers in the community demanding inclusion of a large Lingayat sub-sect in an OBC quota category that provides 15% reservation in government jobs and education in the state.

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Who are the Lingayats?

The Lingayats are a dominant community who make up nearly 17% of Karnataka’s six crore population . The community can determine the outcome of polls in as many as 90-100 of the state’s 224 Assembly constituencies.

The Lingayats, classified as a Hindu sub-caste called Veerashaiva Lingayats, are essentially followers of the 12th-century philosopher Saint Basavanna, who started a movement to help sections of society break away from the chains of caste. The Veerashaiva Lingayats are an amalgamation of the followers of Basavanna’s teachings and Veerashaivas who follow more traditional Hindu practices. The Lingayat community has many sub-sects identified on the basis of the vocations they followed.

How are they politically aligned?

The community has backed the BJP and its leader B S Yediyurappa, now Chief Minister, since the turn of the century after the Congress lost ground with the community in the 1990s on account of its shabby treatment of leaders such as former Chief Minister Veerendra Patil. During its 2013-18 rule, the Congress tried to win back the Lingayats’ support by backing a demand from within a section of the community for the status of a minority religion — independent of Hinduism — and recommending grant of the status to the Centre. But the community largely continued to back the BJP.

What is the current controversy?

Veerashaiva Lingayats have been provided 5% reservation under a special category called 3B. A sub-sect called the Panchamasali Lingayats — basically agriculturists who account for nearly 70% of Lingayats — have now risen in protest seeking reservations under the category 2A, which currently provides 15% reservations to backward castes. The demand has been raised by BJP MLA Basavaraj Patil Yatnal and two prominent seers, Jaya Basava Mruthyunjaya Swami and Vachananda Swami. A protest march and rallies in parts in north and central Karnataka since January 14 have put pressure on Yediyurappa to take a decision.

What is the basis of the demand?

The main stand of the Panchamasali Lingayats is that the community has been denied benefits, and that large sections dependent on agriculture are socially, economically, and educationally backward.

Of the BJP’s 38 Lingayat MLAs, 11 are Panchamasalis. Community leaders have noted that only two of the 17 Panchamasali legislators (including six MLCs) have been given Cabinet berths while nine berths have gone to Lingayats from more dominant sub-sects such as Banajigas. BJP MLA Yatnal has argued that the two Panchamasli ministers have only been given minor portfolios.

Incidentally, at a public meeting in Haveri in early 2020, the seer Vachananda Swami had said an MLA from the community, the wealthy businessman Murugesh Nirani, must be made a minister since it was the community that helped the BJP come to power. Yediyurappa, who was at the meeting, had threatened to walk out over the seer’s remarks. Nirani was finally made a minister last month.

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How does the government plan to address the reservation demand?

On Friday, Yediyurappa directed the chairman of the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission to conduct a study and submit a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Panchamasali community to determine their inclusion under the 2A category. Yediyurappa has indicated to the agitating seers that his government would take a favourable decision. But he sent out mixed signals by stating in the Assembly that he does not have the powers to recommend inclusion under 2A.

Ours is a national party and not a regional party. We can take a decision only on the basis of the advice of the PM and other leaders in such matters. I do not have the power to make any decision on my own,” Yediyurappa said when the issue was raised by a BJP MLA.

Later, he issued a clarification that the issue can be resolved only by consultation.

He has also argued that it was his government that got Panchamasali and other Lingayats included in the 3B category.

Last November, he had proposed demanding the inclusion of all Lingayats in the central OBC reservations category through a state Cabinet decision, but was reportedly dissuaded by the central BJP leadership. Currently, only 16 sub-sects of Lingayats are provided reservations in the OBC quota for central jobs.

What are the political ramifications?

Yediyurappa’s brief suggestion that the agitators approach the BJP central leadership seems to indicate the BJP may be trying to loosen his personal grip over the Lingayat community. The BJP has not pulled up MLAs participating in the movement. The agitation has also picked up momentum at a time when there has been speculation on the future of Yediyurappa, nearly 78, as Chief Minister.

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