‘Last-ditch effort’ to drum up Vokkaliga, Lingayat support? Decoding BJP move to end Muslim quota in Karnataka
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‘Last-ditch effort’ to drum up Vokkaliga, Lingayat support? Decoding BJP move to end Muslim quota in Karnataka

BJP had even added ‘Uri Gowda-Nanje Gowda’ narrative to Tipu Sultan saga to gain support of the influential Vokkaligas, at a time when assembly polls are right around the corner.

Representational image | File photo of Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and senior BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa | ANI

Representational image | File photo of Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and senior BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa | ANI

Bengaluru: With its polarising narratives seemingly failing in poll-bound Karnataka, the ruling BJP has adopted a different strategy of pitting dominant communities such as Vokkaligas and Lingayats against Muslims as is evident in the quota reshuffle, say political analysts.

Last week, the Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government scrapped the 4 per cent reservation for Muslims under the OBC category. It removed Muslims from the 2B category of the state backward classes list and diverted the quota to the newly carved out 2C and 2D categories which are predominantly occupied by Vokkaligas and Lingayats.

The BJP is banking on these two influential communities to retain power in the upcoming assembly election.

The quota move is a ‘last-ditch effort’ to make one final push at Hindutva for bringing together communities under the larger umbrella of ‘Hindu’ and to also deflect attention away from apparent failures of the Bommai government, according to these analysts. 

As part of its efforts, the government pushed for the anti-conversion law, ban on hijab, sided with calls for stopping sale of halal meat and even denied Muslims the permission to take part in Hindu religious fairs.

But most of these issues have taken a toll on the general public who have daily interactions with members of all faiths, political analysts say. Nursing such hatred is exhausting and unsustainable, they contend.

Although Bommai Saturday justified the move by pointing out that Muslims would now be eligible for 10 per cent EWS reservation against the earlier 4 per cent and that the decision was taken “keeping their welfare in mind”, the move has drawn widespread protests from various quarters. 

The Congress, which remained a mute spectator during most part of the hijab controversy, has taken a hard stand on the reservation issue. 

This move, analysts and political observers argue, is an attempt by the BJP to cast the wide net of Hindutva in parts other than the coastal districts and to check the response to its ideology for the assembly elections as well as the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Addressing a rally Sunday in Bidar, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that there was no provision for reservation for religious minorities in the Constitution.

“Reservation that was given to minorities was not in accordance with the Constitution. There is no provision for giving reservation on the basis of religion. The Congress government did this as part of its appeasement politics. The BJP government has ended this reservation for minorities and given it to Vokkaligs and Lingayats and completed the spirit of Bandharan (Constitution in Gujarati),” he said.

Muslims make up nearly 13 per cent of Karnataka’s total population, but as senior BJP leader K. S. Eshwarappa said last June, the BJP does not need their support nor would anyone from the community be given a ticket in the upcoming elections. 

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Shift in strategy 

Tipu Sultan, the erstwhile Mysore ruler, has been time and again used by the BJP to push its Hindutva ideology and to isolate Muslims. 

This time, the BJP added the ‘Uri Gowda-Nanje Gowda’ narrative to the Tipu Sultan saga in an attempt to evoke Vokkaliga sentiments and to gain support of the community which constitutes a majority in several districts of southern Karnataka or Old Mysuru region.

Earlier BJP attempts to woo the Vokkaligas have not been successful as the community, which is believed to account for around 14 per cent of Karnataka’s population, have consolidated behind the Janata Dal (Secular).

To achieve a majority, the BJP needs to win seats in this region and is building narratives to bring the Vokkaligas under the larger umbrella of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindutva’, analysts say.

Although history records that Tipu died fighting the Britishers in the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799, the BJP has floated a narrative now that he was killed by Vokkaliga warriors Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda.

Historians have doubts on these ‘fictional chieftains’ who have been glorified by a section of BJP leaders like C. T. Ravi, C. N. Ashwath Narayana and Shobha Karandlaje.

A Bengaluru-based political analyst, requesting anonymity, says that the BJP now looks to directly pit Hindus against Muslims with the reservation issue as all previous attempts at polarisation have had limited impact.

“The issue of Tipu versus Savarkar has not worked. Now they are more straightforward. It is no longer an ideological topic. They tried Tipu versus Savarkar and made it Vokkaligas versus Tipu stating that Vokkaligas killed Tipu, but none of that has worked,” the analyst contends.

One of the major reasons that Tipu Sultan is not seen as a polarising figure in the Old Mysuru region, the analyst says, is because the 18th-century ruler has had a “positive impact” on all the mutts and people of the region.

Tipu is believed to have helped in the reconstruction of the Sringeri Mutt that was plundered by the Marathas. His dewan, other senior officials were also Hindus. There are several records to state how Tipu was also a patron to many temples through donations.

This version, however, is disputed by the BJP which focuses on the forced conversions and massacre of Nairs in Kerala and Kodavas in Kodagu.

‘Will fight this legally’

The BJP government’s move to remove Muslims from the Karnataka backward classes list has attracted sharp reactions, with senior Muslim leaders threatening to stage protests, if the decision is not withdrawn.

“We will fight this legally. Even the government knows that they cannot do this legally. Removing us from 2B (of the backward classes list) and putting us in EWS will result in us having to fight for reservation in the open category and will force us to protest. The government is well aware that Muslims are more backward than SC/ST in education, politics and all other parameters,” Karnataka State Board of Waqf chairman N.K.Muhammad Shafi Saadi said Saturday.

Even the internal reservations announced within the Scheduled Castes (SC) have not gone down well with several groups like Banjaras and Bhovis. BJP leader B.S.Yediyurappa faced their wrath Monday in Shikaripura town. The two groups are apprehensive that their share under SC quota will come down as a result of internal reservation.

The Congress counts minorities as some of its main backers, and the issue has given it a chance to consolidate the splintering factions of Muslims. Its stand against the quota move will also help avoid splintering of Muslim votes that eventually benefits the BJP.

Though the Congress remained a mute spectator during most part of the Hijab controversy, it has taken a hard stand on the reservation issue.

“In the last 90 days, Bommai government has changed the reservation categories thrice. This itself shows the patent dishonesty and treachery being played on different communities in view of the impending polls. The idea is to divide them,” said Randeep Singh Surjewala, the Congress general secretary in charge of Karnataka, on Sunday.

He added that Bommai has donned the role of a “new age Shakuni” to “dupe, deceive and defraud” the people of the state that would leave no reservation for any community.

On the other hand, Bommai has said that the Congress has always “hoodwinked SC/ST” and that it has been their track record. “They (the Congress) are under the wrong impression that they would get those votes by showing sympathy, but are unaware of the fact that there is an elected government to decide it. The incumbent government has taken a decision only after the discussion regarding any demand from any association or organisation for social or other developments,” he said.

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan) 

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