Bengaluru: A massive rally held by the Panchamasali sub-sect of the Lingayat community in Bengaluru Sunday has turned into a political issue putting Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa in a spot.
Yediyurappa has been facing growing demands to provide the Panchamasalis, the largest grouping within the Lingayat umbrella, a higher status in OBC reservations, which would entitle them to 15 per cent quotas in government jobs and education. Among the leaders of this stir is the BJP’s own Vijayapura MLA B.R. Patil Yatnal, who gave the government an ultimatum at Sunday’s rally.
Of the over 6.25 crore people in Karnataka, around 17-18 per cent are Lingayats, who are concentrated in the northern region but dominate 100 of the state’s 224 constituencies. Panchamasalis account for nearly 70 per cent of the total Lingayat population, but have largely been restricted to farming jobs, while other sub-sects of the same caste have become more and more powerful.
The CM himself is a Lingayat — from the Veerashaiva sub-sect — and the larger community is seen as extremely influential. At the same time, voters of these sub-sects, especially the Panchamasalis, generally support whomever their religious heads back.
Sunday’s rally at the Palace Grounds in Bengaluru was organised to lay down the Panchamasalis’ demand — that when 23 sub-sects within the Lingayat community have been given ‘2A’ status in reservations, which entitles them to the 15 per cent quota especially for employment opportunities, why are they still languishing in the ‘3B’ category since Congress leader Devaraj Urs’ time as chief minister in the 1970s? The ‘3B’ category gives them 5 per cent reservation.
The Panchamasalis are also seeking the ‘2A’ status for the Gouli Lingayats from coastal Karnataka, Diksha Lingayats in Kalyana-Karnataka (more commonly known as Hyderabad-Karnataka, the north-eastern part of the state neighbouring Telangana), and Male Gowdar Lingayats in Malenadu (a strip east of the coastal region that runs from Goa to Kerala).
Dr B.S. Patil, state president of Pancha Sainya, a wing of the Akhila Bharat Lingayat Panchamasali Samaja Trust, added: “It is well within our rights to make this demand, which has been pending for decades.”
However, the other Lingayat sub-sects are wary that if the Panchamsalis are also given ‘2A’ status, their own opportunities might get limited because they are numerically a much larger community.
“The search on the part of these major communities and Lingayat sub-castes is to find a category which has a lot of reservation and less competition. Those accommodated in the token 3-5 per cent quotas now want a larger piece of the pie,” social historian and political commentator Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi explained to ThePrint.
The Panchamasali rally in Bengaluru was significant because Yediyurappa, the tallest Lingayat leader in the state, is under pressure to satisfy the demands of the Panchamasalis who help Lingayat leaders win elections.
Wary of a political backlash, Yediyurappa had “personally” urged the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes to expedite a report on giving ‘2A’ reservation to Panchamasalis. But during the recently concluded assembly session, Yediyurappa stated on the floor of the House that there was nothing he could do on the demand.
This is because he’s stuck in a quandary — if he doesn’t follow through on his promise to give them ‘2A’ status, the community’s large voter base could sour on him, but if he concedes to their demands, he will antagonise other Lingayat sects.
“This rally has proven that Yediyurappa is no longer the unquestionable leader of the Lingayats. Not only has he been isolated within the Lingayats, it also given rise to the emergence of an alternate leadership among the Lingayats,” said political commentator Mahadev Prakash.
This “alternate leadership” includes religious leaders like Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami from the Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peetha, who demanded that CM Yediyurappa fulfil their demands for better opportunities, and another important Panchamasali seer, Swami Vachanananda, who even had a run-in with Yediyurappa in Haveri.
Some state BJP leaders, especially those from the Panchamasali sub-sect like Yatnal, have also backed the demand. Yatnal said Yediyurappa has been using the Panchamasali Lingayats for political gains, and is now trying to appease them for his own political stability.
“Their agenda is to not give the opportunity to Panchamasali Lingayats. They are just buying time,” he told ThePrint over the phone.
One possible way out of this quandary is to accord OBC status to the whole Lingayat community, which Yediyurappa’s BJP government is trying to do. But its own party high command is not in favour.
Yet, it’s an idea that finds backing from Karnataka Congress working president Eshwar Khandre, a Veerashaiva Lingayat and general secretary of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha. “OBC status must be accorded to the entire community, not just one sub-sect,” he said.