Bengaluru: The Basavaraj Bommai-led government in Karnataka has in principle accepted an “interim report” submitted by the backward classes commission in the state, for upgrading the categorisation of Lingayats and Vokkaligas in the other backward classes (OBC) reservation. The move is being seen as an attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state to placate the two most dominant caste groups in Karnataka and win their support ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
Though there is no empirical data on caste-based population in the state, it is widely believed that Lingayats constitute about 17 per cent of the populace in Karnataka, while Vokkaligas are believed to comprise around 15 per cent. Both are upper castes and have dominated Karnataka politics for decades.
While the interim report was submitted to the CM on 22 December, an announcement on the state’s in-principle acceptance was made by Karnataka law minister J.C. Madhuswamy Thursday. The creation of new categories for the caste groups within the OBC will see reservation for the two in education and government jobs in the state go up by “at least two-three per cent”, though Madhuswamy said the finer details about the quota are yet to be finalised.
“The final report is only for increasing quota, but we will bring them up to 2C & 2D (category in OBC). There will be no meddling with 2A & 2B and that will remain as it is. The percentage saved under EWS (economically weaker sections) will be distributed to increase the reservation for these two groups,” Madhuswamy explained.
While Category ‘1’ of OBC so far included 95 main caste groups, Category ‘2’ reservation, for extreme backward classes in the state, so far included two sub-categories — 2A, which included 102 main caste groups, prominent castes like Kurubas and Idigah and several sub-castes, and 2B, for Muslims. Vokkaligas so far constituted category 3A, with a reservation of four per cent, while Veerashaiva-Lingayats formed category 3B and enjoyed five per cent reservation.
Reddys, Naidus were some of the other caste groups included in 3A Category of OBC, while Marathas, Aryas formed part of 3B. While it is believed that by moving Lingayats and Vokkaligas into Category 2, the government will do away with the 3A and 3B Categories, it is yet unclear what will happen to the other castes which were part of these categories.
The economically weaker section (EWS) quota of 10 per cent in the state is divided among Brahmins, Jain, Arya Vaishya, Nagarthas and Mudaliars, who are believed to account for roughly four per cent of the state’s estimated 70 million population.
Now a portion of the EWS quota will be diverted to Lingayats and Vokkaligas, under the new 2C and 2D category of the OBC.
Madhuswamy said that Karnataka will fix the EWS quota by estimating the population of the eligible communities. “Then, the remaining percentage points will be allocated to the newly created categories,” he said.
While political analysts have raised concern over “injustice to voiceless groups” caused as a result of the reorganisation of the EWS quota, to benefit Lingayats and Vokkaligas, R. Ashoka, Karnataka’s minister for revenue and a member of the Vokkaliga community, said Friday that “compared to other states we (Karnataka) have a lower number of castes who are eligible for EWS.
He added: “So, we have more opportunities (to redistribute quota) here. In that view, by causing no anguish to any community we have more opportunities to give the additional quota to newly created categories.”
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What will change in reservation for Vokkaligas and Lingayats
Vokkaligas, a primarily farming community, had earlier this month submitted a memorandum to CM Bommai demanding 12 per cent reservation in education and jobs.
While prominent Panchamasali religious head, Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami, who had earlier this month led a march to the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha as part of a quota stir, said Thursday that the community — a sub-sect of Lingayats — didn’t want political reservation, but quota in jobs and education, it is widely believed the Panchamasalis wants one of their members to be made Chief Minister, as they constitute about 60 per cent of Lingayats, and claim that so far the opportunity has been given only to those from smaller sub-castes.
This demand is believed to have been there ever since Bommai, a member of the Sadr Lingayat community, replaced B.S. Yediyurappa as CM last July. Karnataka industries minister and member of Panchamasali community, Murugesh Nirani, was earlier projected as a possible contender for the post.
“The devil will be in the details. It looks like the losers will be the Brahmins in the EWS category,” said one Bengaluru-based political analyst, requesting anonymity.
According to A. Narayana, a Bengaluru-based political analyst, the entire exercise of using the reservation meant for social justice as a “poverty alleviation programme” was only for cementing the “dominant caste theory”, and in the process meting out further injustice to the “voiceless groups” in Karnataka.
“For anyone to claim more reservation, it has to be proved that their representation in bureaucracy and politics is very thin. Only when it is absent or miniscule, then reservation can be given,” he said.
‘Dominant backward class’
With 2023 assembly elections just a few months away, the BJP will be hoping that the OBC upgrade, will boost support for the party not just among its core Lingayat votebank, but also among the Vokkaligas, who form a big part of the population in the Old Mysuru region, where the BJP is yet to make its presence felt.
The BJP managed to get just 104 of 224 seats in the 2018 assembly elections in Karnataka and by placating the Vokkaligas, who have traditionally consolidated behind the former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S), it hopes to get enough seats here to give it an absolute majority in the 2023 assembly elections.
The Vokkaligas have backed the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha, helping it win an unprecedented 25 of 28 seats in the state, but did not entirely support it in the assembly. Meanwhile, the Lingayat community has consolidated its support for the party, especially behind Yediyurappa, since 2008. Though Yediyurappa became CM in 2007, heading a coalition government, it was the Lingayat support which helped BJP win in 2008.
Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst, said that the entire exercise of giving increased reservation for Lingayats and Vokkaligas was an attempt at “competitive electoral gains”.
Though only the Panchamasalis and a section within the Vokkaligas had been agitating for increased reservation, the Bommai government is believed to have moved the entire group to a higher categorisation under OBC to ensure there is no split in the group.
“Earlier the two dominant backward castes (Vokkaligas and Lingayats) were put under Category 3. Now by moving them to Category 2, one implication could be all those in Category 2 are of the same status. Earlier Category 2 was considered more backward and Category 3 was considered dominant backward castes,” Shastri said.
The Bommai government has refused to release the findings of the 2015 socio-economic and educational survey or ‘caste-census’, which leaves no empirical data to prove dominance or backwardness for any caste group.
In Karnataka’s deeply caste-influenced society and politics, dominance has been effectively used to mobilise masses, bargain for better reservation in education, employment, politics and as Shastri puts it, “dominance is also a question of social status, prestige, power…..”
No other community has more representation in the bureaucracy and politics as Vokkaligas and Lingayats, as there have been just six chief ministers out of the 23 in Karnataka who do not belong to these two groups. CMs who did not belong to these prominent caste groups include Devaraj Urs (Arasu community), Siddaramaiah (Kuruba), Ramakrishna Hegde and Gundu Rao (Brahmins), S. Bangarappa (Idiga), Dharam Singh (Rajput) and Veerappa Moily (Devadiga).
In the years that the BJP has been in power in the state since 2008 (intermittently), there have been three Lingayat CMs, B.S. Yediyurappa, Jagadish Shettar and Bommai, and one Vokkaliga CM, D.V. Sadananda Gowda.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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