“Yediyurappa will not be CM for long. Even those in high command are fed up with him. He is neglecting North Karnataka completely. Senior leaders in the BJP are tired of Yediyurappa.”
This statement by Karnataka BJP MLA Basangouda Patil Yatnal, that too on a public forum, came as a surprise to many. Even though the rift between the Yediyurappa faction and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the BJP is an open secret, it was not spoken about at public events.
As expected, Yediyurappa stayed quiet on the matter and the BJP state high command rejected the statement, though a day late. “Yediyurappa will continue as Chief Minister for the next three years. We will go to the next poll under his leadership,” said party State President Nalin Kumar Kateel, who is an RSS man.
But is this end of this episode? According to party insiders, despite the usual political statements and rejections, this is the first step towards a larger plan by the RSS. Key to this plan is the Lingayat community, which has been keeping BS Yediyurappa relevant in the BJP and in the chief minister’s chair.
Lingayats & Caste Equations in Karnataka
Yatnal is a member of the Panchamasali subsect of the Lingayat community. His scathing statement comes days after a prominent leader of the community demanded changing the reservation status of the Lingayats.
Currently, the Lingayat community comes within Section 3B of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation list, which gets 4 percent of the total 32 percent reservation given to the OBCs. Veerashaiva and 42 subcastes, which come under the Lingayat community, are part of Section 3B.
The Panchamasali community, which is the largest within the various subcastes of the Lingayat community, has been claiming they were not getting enough benefits of the reservation under Section 3B.
The Panchamasali community is now demanding to be included in the Section 2A of the reservation list, which provides 15 percent reservation for 102 castes, including Kurubas and Edigas.
Members of the Panchamasali community led by Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami of the Lingayat Panchamasali Peetha at Koodalasangama said that they will stage a one-day fast in front of the Suvarna Soudha in Belagavi on October 28, demanding that their subcaste be shifted to Section 2A.
RSS’ Political Calculations
So why is this development crucial for the RSS? The RSS faction within the BJP has been unable to remove Yediyurappa so far, because he still is the Karnataka BJP's only mass leader, and has the support of the Lingayat community, which forms roughly 14% of the state's vote share.
There are historical lessons to prove that any hasty removal of a Lingayat leader could be disastrous. In 1990, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi unceremoniously removed Lingayat Chief Minister Veerendra Patil from power. This decision resulted in an exodus of Lingayat votes from the Congress. After a series of mergers, splits and coalitions, this vote bank – consolidated with the BJP and Yediyurappa – became its face by early 2000s.
The RSS will be careful not to repeat the Veerendra Patil story, namely, ousting Yediyurappa and finding the Lingayat support evaporating as well. So, instead of just removing him, the RSS faction is trying to weaken his Lingayat support.
“Look at three recent developments – Panchamasali community demands more reservation, Panchamasali mutt seer demands a chief minister from their community and a leader from that community says Yediyurappa will be replaced soon. Is this an attempt to divide the subcastes in the community? And we all know that Yatnal is an RSS man,” said a leader from the Yediyurappa camp, speaking to The Quint.
Yediyurappa: Between a Rock & a Hard Place
Yediyurappa has been caught in a tough situation in this entire episode.
Firstly, if he agrees to shift Panchamasali subcaste to 2A, other subcastes within the Lingayat community will demand a similar change, and this could eventually divide a community that has supported Yediyurappa all these years. Also, the 104 castes, which are currently part of Section 2A, will also raise an objection as this would dilute their quota.
Yediyurappa requires the support of a united Lingayat community and some other castes to retain his political relevance.
Secondly, if Yediyurappa doesn’t agree to this demand, the opposition from the Panchamasali subcaste is expected to increase over a period of time, once again threatening to divide his vote bank. In such a situation, it may be possible for another leader to emerge as a Lingayat strongman.
According to sources in the Yediyurappa camp, for now the Chief Minister has decided not to react to the controversy in the hope that it fizzles out.
The question, however, remains that if the RSS faction is behind these political moves, will this controversy fizzle out at all? Unlikely.