Earlier this week, a sub-sect of the dominant Lingayat community in Karnataka staged a protest in front of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s residence in the Shiggaon region of Haveri district — Bommai represents Shiggaon in the Assembly — to demand recognition among Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the reservation matrix.
The Panchamasali Lingayats, a sub-sect of the Lingayat community that is a key support base of the BJP in the state, staged the protests outside the CM’s home after several months of threatening to do so to press their demand for OBC quota.
During the protest on Tuesday, which was attended by local Congress leaders such as Vijay Kashappanavar and Vinay Kulkarni, Panchamasali community seer Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami who has been leading the reservations protests for over two years accused former CM BS Yediyurappa of posing hurdles for the Panchamsalis.
The seer said Yediyurappa fears Bommai’s emergence as a top Lingayat leader if he approves the demand. “There is a fear that Bommai will become a permanent Lingayat leader if the demand for OBC recognition is accepted,” Mrutyunjaya Swami said.
Yediyurappa is a member of the Lingayat community but belongs to another sub-sect known as the Banajigas. He told the state Assembly this week that he favoured reservation for Panchamasalis under the OBC category and had never opposed the demand.
Even as Panchamasali Lingayats protested, Bommai, who is from the Sadr Lingayat subsect, told the Assembly that a decision on providing quotas to Panchamasalis and other groups demanding inclusion in the OBC list or the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category could be reached only after the state Backward Classes Commission completes its report on the socio-economic status of various communities.
“Reservations will be provided only after scientific studies. It would have meaning only after a study,”’ Bommai said in response to BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and Congress MLA Lakshmi Hebbalkar’s demand that the Panchamasali Lingayats be granted OBC status. The two legislators belong to the Panchamasali sub-sect.
The Panchamasali Lingayats have given the BJP government in Karnataka multiple deadlines over the last year to decide on their demand. The BJP government received some breathing space on the vexing issue last month after the Karnataka High Court ordered a stay on an evaluation of the community’s backwardness.
Subhash Adi committee
On July 1, 2021, the government ordered the setting up of a committee under the leadership of retired High Court judge Justice Subhash B Adi to examine the Panchamasali community’s demand for inclusion under the 2A quota category for OBCs, which would give 15 per cent reservation to the community instead of the 3B category that gives only five per cent reservation under the category.
The Karnataka State Backward Castes’ Federation moved the High Court, questioning the Karnataka government’s decision to set up the committee. The federation has questioned the state government issuing an executive order to create the quota evaluation committee when reservations fall under the purview of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Castes Act, 1995.
The High Court has said the petition raises the questions as to “whether the State in its Executive Power could constitute a Committee, to examine whether the Panchamasali Lingayat sub-sect (which is presently in Category 3B), under Government Order bearing dated 01.07.2021, can be included in category 2A and if so, under what circumstances’”.
The Panchamasalis staged a protest march over two months from Bagalkot in north Karnataka to Bengaluru in 2021 to demand reservation. The protest was called off after Yediyurappa, then the CM, sought time to address the demand in a constitutional and legal manner.
The Panchamasali community leaders at the forefront of the agitation at the time, including Yatnal, said the reservation agitation was called off for the time being based on assurances Yediyurappa made in the Assembly about making an honest effort to resolve the matter.
“As per a Cabinet decision to resolve demands for reservation by various castes under legal and constitutional norms, a three-member committee is being constituted under the chairmanship of retired High Court judge Subhash Adi,” Yediyurappa said before he stepped down as Karnataka CM on July 26, 2021.
Bommai, who replaced Yediyurappa, said at an all-party meeting this March that a report had been sought from the advocate general on the legal implications of the various demands for new reservations by various communities.
“If reservations have to be provided, it has to be in accordance with Constitutional provisions and Supreme Court orders. The advocate general has been asked to submit a report in this regard,” Bommai said earlier this year.
The Panchamasali Lingayats have cited poverty among a large section of the community as a reason for the demand for OBC reservations. The community claims to make up around 85 lakh of the six crore population in Karnataka. It claims to make up more than 70 per cent of the state’s Lingayat population, estimated to be around 17 per cent of the total population of Karnataka.
The quota agitation by the Panchamasali Lingayats was initially triggered in 2021 by BJP MLA Murugesh Nirani who was not part of the state Cabinet at the time. After the MLA was inducted into the Cabinet, other BJP leaders came to the forefront of the campaign such as Basanagouda Patil Yatnal.
Although Karnataka has seen several CMs from the Lingayat community over the years, including Yediyurappa, Bommai, and Jagadish Shettar, the grouse of the Panchamasali sub-sect is that it has not received significant political representation despite making up the largest chunk of the Veerashaiva Lingayat caste group in Karnataka.