Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has hit a stumbling block, in the form of caste politics in the state. Not all Lingayat seers are in support of him anymore.
In the last one month, two seers of Karnataka’s powerful Lingayat mutts – Basavajaya Mrityunjaya Swami and Dingaleshwara Swami – have come out openly against Bommai’s government, albeit over two separate rallying points. While seer Dingaleshwara has accused the government of graft, seer Mrityunjaya plans to go on a hunger strike to demand 2A category reservation (Backward Classes) for Panchamasali Lingayats.
Speaking to The Quint, seer Mrityunjaya said, “We were told to wait for long. We can’t anymore. Panchamasalis are angry with the government for going back on its word.” The Panchamasali Lingayats form about 80 percent of the Lingayat population. The Lingayats are a big voting block in Karnataka as they form 17 percent of the population.
Meanwhile, seer Dingaleshwara told The Quint, “When grants were sanctioned to us, the government deducted 30 percent. This was commission for the government. Now they are asking for proof. Should they not find out the proof on their own?” Seer Dingaleshwara is a Jangama Lingayat.
Dingaleshwara Swami and the Jangama Lingayat Maths
Lingayats are followers of Basavanna, also known as Basaveshwara, a 12th-century philosopher. While the Lingayat movement did take shape as a social reform movement, the community is divided along caste lines. Lingayat is currently an umbrella term used to represent 99 caste groups.
Jangamas form a minority, yet powerful, sub-caste among the Lingayats.
Seer Dingaleshwara of Balehosur mutt is a powerful figure as he has the support of fellow Jangama Lingayat seers. When former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa was on the verge of resigning in 2021, seer Dingaleshwara was able to get 12 Lingayat seers to rally behind him. All gave support to Yediyurappa and the delegation even petitioned the BJP High Command, lobbying for the then embattled CM.
Yediyurappa is a Banajiga Lingayat. The Banajigas are another minority sub-set, wielding immense power among the Lingayats. Most Chief Ministers of Karnataka have been Banajiga Lingayats.
Current Chief Minister Basvaraj Bommai, however, is a Sadar Lingayat. Sadars are the less vocal and nominally politically organised among the Lingayat sub-castes.
“He needs the support of all Lingayat sub-castes and mutts to come back to power,” a Lingayat seer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.
Why did seer Dingaleshwara support the Bharatiya Janata Party and Yediyurappa? The former chief minister was always benevolent towards the mutts. “The government under Yediyurappa had given hundreds of crores of rupees to the mutts and its seers. The Lingayat mutts were the backbone of his political clout,” the seer said. He added that Dingaleshwara Swami, with his ability to bring the Jangama seers under one umbrella, can always pose a threat to any government.
When The Quint asked seer Dingaleshwara whether he still supports former Chief Minister Yediyurappa, he clarified, “My support is always with good political leaders. But my complaint about the current government has nothing to do with political affiliation.”
In Karnataka’s political circles, it is believed that the Balehosur seer spoke against the current government out of loyalty to Yediyurappa, whose sons Vijayendra and Raghavendra are yet to gather the political clout they had enjoyed when their father was CM.
On the other hand, seer Basavajaya Mrityunjaya told The Quint that he has no complaints about Bommai government handling of funds to the seers. “I have not faced any problem. My only concern is that the government has not awarded 2A category status to Panchamasalis, despite several requests,” he said. Seer Mrityunjaya refused to comment on Dingaleshwara Swami’s political and caste affiliations and his proximity to the former CM.
Mrityunjaya Swami and Panchamasali Lingayat Trouble
Mrityunjaya Swami had raised trouble even for Yediyurappa. Since 2019, the seer has been at the forefront of agitations for 2A category. The Panchamaslis are an agrarian sect. They currently fall under 3A and 3B category as most of them are landowning farmers. The 2A category comprises 102 communities of landless artisans.
The Panchamasalis, however, claim that are a socio-economic backward community who deserve a better shot at education and employment.
In February 2021, the Panchamasalis led a protest march from Belagavi to Bengaluru to demand 2A category status. Yediyurappa, then CM, had promised to award the status, seer Mrityunjaya said. “Yediyurappa promised the status twice. Later, when CM Bommai took over, he promised the same. But even this government has not helped us,” he said.
Within the BJP, MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who had issued several statements against Yediyurappa, supports the Panchamasali seer. Yatnal is a Panchamasali Lingayat.
Pertinent to note that with the support of BJP MLAs like Yatnal, seer Mrityunjaya could demand for a change in leadership in the BJP. The seer has been rooting for a Panchamasali CM for the past many years. This is similar to the line taken by seer Dingaleshwara, who has not been looking at Bommai kindly even as he has been supporting the BJP.
According to Mrityunjaya Swami, during the last Assembly session CM Bommai assured 2A status before the commencement of the budget session.
“Now the budget session is over and we have not heard from the CM yet,” the seer said. The seer has called for an indefinite hunger strike at Koodalasangama Panchamasali Mahapeeta mutt, starting 21 April. “I am ready to fast unto death for this,” he said.
How Will the Seers’ Rebellion Affect the BJP?
Lingayat mutts have widespread support among the community. While the Lingayats have been supporting the BJP, differences between the seers and the party may lead to vote attrition.
“The BJP needs our support to win seats especially in northern Karnataka,” seer Mrityunjaya said. Meanwhile, Jangama Lingayat mutts have a following in central and northern Karnataka, among other places.
While seer Dingaleshawara did not want to comment on political equations, his antagonism towards the current CM could affect the BJP in north Karnataka. “We have never said we won’t support the government. We have a problem with the way mutts are being made to pay the government,” the seer said.
Seer Dingaleshwara, in 2021, staged a march opposing the BJP's decision to replace Yediyurappa.
The absence of Lingayat support, meanwhile, could also affect the political prospects of Bommai. While the BJP has shown no signs of wanting a change in leadership in the state, a loss of face among the Lingayats could make the party rethink Bommai’s role as the face of the party in the upcoming Legislative Assembly elections.