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BJP's Quota Debacle in Karnataka: Banjaras, Muslims Stir, Split Among Lingayats

BJP's reservation policy in Karnataka has angered Muslims and some sections among Dalits, and Lingayats. Why?

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Karnataka government's Cabinet decision to overhaul reservation system in the state has landed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in trouble, just days before Assembly elections scheduled to be held in April-May this year.

On 24 March, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced a slew of changes in the reservation list for Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, and Muslims. As per the new reservation regime, dominant castes Lingayats and Vokkaligas will each get additional two percent reservation within the BC list. The government scrapped 2B category reservation for Muslims to increase the quota for Lingayats and Vokkaligas. Also, six percent of reservation within the Scheduled Castes list was set aside for Madigas, and the rest was divided among other Dalit castes making sub-caste reservation mandatory in Karnataka.

The measures have now opened a pandora's box with a section of Panchamasali Lingayats, Muslims, and Dalits all protesting the BJP.

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Panchamasalis Say 'No One Is Happy'

Just a day after the announcement was made, a split surfaced among the Panchamasali Lingayats who have been protesting for 2A category reservation among the state's BC list.

Panchamasali Seer Basavajaya Mrityunjaya, who has been on a dharna at Freedom Park in Bengaluru for over 70 days, was told by Vijayanand Kashappanavar of Akhil Bharatiya Panchamasali Mahasabha that the agitation for reservation should continue as the Panchamasalis are still within the 3D classification among BCs and not 2A, as demanded by them collectively.
BJP's reservation policy in Karnataka has angered Muslims and some sections among Dalits, and Lingayats. Why?

Basavajaya Mrityunjaya Swami leading the padyatra with BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal in Belagavi.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Panchamasali Lingayats form about 70 percent of the Lingayat population in the state. Lingayats form 17 percent of Karnataka's population.

Speaking to The Quint Kashappanavar, who is also a former Congress MLA who is expected to contest the upcoming election, said, "Panchamasali leaders of the Congress, BJP, and JD(S) have been supporting the protest because we want 15 percent reservation for the community among the Lingayats. The government has now given a total of seven percent reservation for Lingayats, which is way below our asking." The Congressman also said that in the guise of upping reservation for the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the BJP has scrapped reservation for the Muslims, who previously fell under the 2B, BC list.

"This is just a ploy to pit the Lingayats, especially the poor Panchamasalis, against the Muslims. We cannot accept this," Vijayanand Kashappanavar told The Quint.
BJP's reservation policy in Karnataka has angered Muslims and some sections among Dalits, and Lingayats. Why?

Basavajaya Mrityunjaya Swami with BJP MLAs Arvind Ballad and Basanagouda Patil Yatnal

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Seer Basavajaya Mrityunjaya, however, has reluctantly accepted the demand as the BJP MLAs – Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and Arvind Ballad –supporting the 2A category demand have backed out of the protest, Panchamasali sources told The Quint.

Interestingly, earlier in December 2022, the Panchamasali leaders including the BJP MLAs had rejected the government's decision to include the community under 2D category. "In Belagavi, we were told that the community will be included under 2D category and we rejected the offer because the government was not ready to meet our demand for 15 percent reservation," a source said. Meaning, the BJP government in Karnataka has seemingly implemented a contentious reservation policy to woo the Lingayats and keep the party's MLAs happy before the 2023 Assembly election. The effort may not yield the desired results as the Panchamasalis are still not convinced that the BJP will give the community 15 percent reservation in the future.

To make matters worse, the new reservation system has upset a section among the Dalits and all of the Muslim community in the state.

Banjaras and Muslims Stage Massive Protests

Banjaras or Lambanis in Karnataka fall under the Scheduled Castes list, even as they are included in the Scheduled Tribes list in other neighbouring states including Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Another section of Dalits – Madigas or Left Dalits – who have been up in arms against the BJP, demanding sub-caste reservation for themselves, were given the largest chunk of reservation, 6 percent, within the SC list. Meaning, as per the new classification, the Holeyas or Right Dalits will now have 5.5 percent and Touchable Dalits including the Banjaras will get 4.5 percent reservation within the SC list.

This classification has largely angered the Banjaras who have, according to other sections of Dalits, been occupying the biggest chunk of the reserved seats in education and employment sectors. Strongly opposing the new reservation policy the Banjaras staged protest in Bagalkote and Shivamogga districts.

Interestingly, in Shivamogga, on 27 March, the protesters targeted former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa's home in Shikaripura.

"BS Yediyurappa was instrumental in keeping this community happy over the years as he refused to implement the Justice Sadashiva Committee report, which recommended the declassification of Banjaras from the SC list. Now, the community is turning to him for support," a BJP insider told The Quint. The protests continued for a second day on 28 March, when visuals of Banjara community leaders removing BJP flags from atop their houses surfaced from Bagalkote district.

Meanwhile, Muslims staged protests in Vijayanagara district demanding the government to reinstate the 2B category reservation. "The declassification of Muslims from the BC list in the state has made it clear that the BJP does not want Muslim votes. They are happy to keep the different castes within the Hindu fold happy," said a Congress leader.

For the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), the new reservation regime has given a fillip as both the parties have supported protests against the government's decision. Speaking to media, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President DK Shivakumar announced on 27 March that if Congress comes to power in the state, reservation for Muslims will be reinstated.

Will the BJP buckle under pressure so close to the elections? A BJP source told The Quint, "We will see how this policy will help us this election. We do not think it will cause us any trouble."

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