Is Karnataka about to make another commitment to provide reservation? Panchamasali Lingayat leaders told The Quint that the community will soon be included under the 2A category of the Backward Classes (BC) list in the state.
"An all party meeting will be called on 28 December following which Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai will call a cabinet meeting on 29 December. A report supporting our demand for reservation has already been readied and this will be discussed in the cabinet meeting," Panchamasali leader Basavajaya Mrityunjaya Swami told The Quint. He said a promise to this effect was already made to Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, BJP MLA and Panchamasali leader.
When The Quint reached out to Karnataka CM's office, officials refused comment on the matter.
According to a senior Panchamasali leader, both the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) will support the community's demand for 2A reservation. "We have got assurances from both the Congress and the BJP that they will not oppose the demand. We believe, the BJP will have to take the matter up in the cabinet meet and pass the resolution," the leader further explained.
Led by Basavajaya Mrityunjaya Swami lakhs of Panchamasali Lingayats had staged a protest at Suvarna Soudha (Legislative Assembly) at Belagavi on Thursday, 22 December. The protest was also led by Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal. Yatnal even threatened to resign from the BJP if the reservation were to be denied.
What Will the Reservation Mean for Panchamasalis?
Lingayat is an umbrella term used to denote over 100 sub-castes. Panchamasalis form about 80 percent of the Lingayat population. The Lingayats form 17 percent of Karnataka's population and have traditionally been supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Panchamasali Lingayats have been claiming that they form a marginalised section among the Lingayats. The community has been backward in terms of education and employment indices, Seer Mrityunjaya had earlier told The Quint. According to the seer, who has been at the forefront of the protest for reservation, most Panchamasalis are farmers.
"We need reservation under 2A category so that our children will get the education and employment they deserve," the seer said. Currently, the Panchamasalis are classified under 3B category of the BC list.
If they get reclassified under 2A, the community is expected to get 15 percent reservation within the BC list.
The Panchamasalis have been vociferously demanding reservation since 2012. In 2018, seer Mrityunjaya himself went on a hunger strike raising the demand. In February 2021, lakhs of Panchamasalis marched from Belagavi to Bengaluru demanding 2A status.
While former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa formed a three member committee to look into the demand in 2021, he was soon replaced by Basavaraj Bommai.
Since Bommai became the CM, Panchamasalis have been holding sporadic protests to convince him. Meanwhile, Bommai hiked the reservation bar for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state by 3 percent and 7 percent respectively, in 2022.
Why Did the BJP Consider 2A Reservation?
According to Mrityunjaya Swami, the longstanding demand was accepted because the three member committee set up to study the living conditions of Panchamasali Lingayats agreed that they could be classified under 2A category.
"This was communicated to Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and we are happy that the committee report has supported our claim and demand," the seer said.
For the BJP, the Lingayats are an important voting bloc, which can decide the party's fate in 2023 Assembly elections.
While the Panchamasalis have demanded 2A reservation, the rest of the Lingayats have demanded that they be included under the Centre's Other Backward Classes (OBC) list. At a massive convention, expected to be held in Belagavi in December, the Lingayats are expected to put forth this demand. Meanwhile, another electorally significant caste – the Vokkaligas – too have demanded a hike in reservation under OBC category.
"For the BJP the 2A category demand is the easiest one to grant as it has been a long standing demand. The party will thereby get the support of the majority of the Lingayats," a Lingayat leader said, on the condition of anonymity.
Formal Announcement Expected Soon?
According to the seer, the BJP government will make a formal announcement on the changed reservation policy after the cabinet meeting.
"We hope that the CM's cabinet colleagues too support our demand for 2A reservation," a senior Lingayat leader said, indicating the battle may not yet be over for the community. To hike the reservation for SCs and STs, Karnataka government had promulgated an Ordinance in October.
To change the reservation status of Panchamasalis, the government may have to take a similar route. "We hope that the government will stick to the commitment they made to us. We do not want to lose hope in the BJP," a Panchamasali leader said.
As 2023 is expected to see a tough poll battle between the Congress and the BJP, there is a high chance that the latter may appease the Panchamasalis. Meanwhile seer Mrityunjaya said, "We were promised the 2A status even earlier. We hope this time the government honours their promise."