With elections fast approaching and under pressure from one of its most influential vote bases — the Panchamasali Lingayats — the BJP government in Karnataka seems to have decided to give in to a key demand of the community on reservations.
After a massive protest by Panchamasalis, a sub-sect of the Lingayats, on Thursday, 22 December, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai is expected to soon announce reservation for the community under Category 2A of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The attempt to woo the influential Panchamasali Lingayat sect, despite lack of a detailed report, comes at a time the BJP’s internal survey has indicated that the reservation agitation is turning into a drawback for the party’s poll prospects.
Over one lakh people from the Panchamasali sect had gathered demanding 2A reservation at one of the protest sites near the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in Belagavi on Thursday. People from Chamrajnagar to Bidar participated in the protest.
BJP MLA, seer lead protest
The agitation was spearheaded by Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peetha pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami and BJP leader and Bijapur City MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal.
Political leaders across party lines not only participated in the protest, but also warned the government it would be taught a lesson in the 2023 Assembly polls if the demand was not met.
The faction led by pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami gave a final deadline to the Karnataka government to provide OBC status to the Panchamasali sect.
The Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peetha pontiff launched the protest with a padayatra from Hire-Bagewadi to the protest site, around 20 km away, on Thursday. The event was inaugurated by MLA Yatnal and All India Lingayat Panchamasali Mahasabha president and former Hungund MLA Vijayananda Kashappanavar.
Panchamasali leaders such as BJP MLA Aravind Bellad, Congress MLA Laxmi Hebbalkar and other prominent leaders were present.
‘CM to make announcement on 29 December’
Addressing the massive gathering, MLA Yatnal said, “The Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes has submitted an interim report on the socio-economic status of the Panchamasali sect. The report has recommended that 2A reservation be provided to the sect,” Yatnal claimed.
Earlier in the day, K Jayaprakash Hegde, chairperson of the commission, submitted an interim report in a sealed cover to Basavaraj Bommai. The chief minister chaired a high-level meeting with prominent leaders of the Panchamasali sect at Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in Belagavi after he received the interim report.
“Chief Minister Bommai has promised to announce the OBC status to the sect on 29 December. He has sought one-week’s time to study the report and look into the legal procedures to accord the long-pending demand of 2A reservation to the Panchamasali,” said Yatnal.
“The commission has mentioned in its report that Panchamasali sect are socio-economically poor and backward. It also insisted on providing reservation to the sect. We had a detailed discussion on the report with the chief minister,” stated Yatnal.
“After government accepts the commission report, an all-party meeting will be called on the matter on 28 December. Bommai has assured that he will declare the 2A reservation to the community on 29 December. He has also promised to give the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) 10 percent reservation to Lingayats and Veerashaiva-Lingayats,” Yatnal said.
Under the current norms, only those sections that are not covered under existing reservations are eligible to avail quota under EWS category.
“The chief minister has given his word that he will provide OBC status to the sect. If the government fails to provide reservation to the sect on the given date, then I will ensure that they go home in the coming days,” warned Yatnal.
He also said that he will fight for the inclusion of the Kuruba community into the Schedule Tribe (ST) category, and reservation for other sects of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, Marathas and Brahmins.
“We received fruitful results for our two-year-long agitation on demanding reservations to the sect — at the same place where the protest was started at Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in 2020,” pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami said while addressing the crowd.
Backward Classes Commission report
The interim report submitted by the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes is the first it has submitted after it began its survey and study of the socio-economic conditions of the Panchamasalis in February 2021. A second phase of the survey began in June 2022.
“We have submitted only an interim report. The final report is yet to be submitted as survey and study work are still underway,” chairman K Jayaprakash Hegde told South First.
Asked whether the commission was pressurised to submit an interim report, Hegde said: “There was no pressure either from the government or any political leaders on the commission. The final report will be submitted at the earliest.”
— CM of Karnataka (@CMofKarnataka) December 22, 2022
Objection to the report
Taking exception to the interim report, another influential pontiff of the Panchamasalis, Vachanananda Swami of the Harihara Panchamasali Peetha, told South First: “There is no provision to submit an interim report. Based on the interim report, the state government cannot give reservation to the sect. The government has to wait until the commission submits its final report.”
“The interim report will not give a detailed picture about the socio-economic status of the sect. The final report will have all the facts about the sect. It is inapt to provide reservation based on the interim report,” added the pontiff of Harihara Panchamasali Peetha.
Tussle continues between pontiffs of Panchamasali sect
Harihara Panchamasali Peetha pontiff had distanced himself from the faction led by the Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peetha pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami over the 2A reservation protest and other issues of the sect.
In 2021, both the seers had jointly led the agitations demanding recategorisation of reservation for the Panchamasalis. Over the next few months, the seers had a falling out.
Belagavi Panchamasali unit chairman RK Patil had written a letter to the Belagavi City Police Commissioner requesting him to restrict Vachanananda Swami from taking part in the mega protest held near Suvarana Vidhana Soudha.
In his letter Patil had said: “There are possibilities of Vachanananda Swami taking part in the protest. If he participates then there are chances of a threat to law and order. We appeal to you to restrict Harihara Peetha pontiff from participating in the event.”
Even during the event, Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peetha pontiff, without mentioning the name of Vachanananda Swami, lashed out at him.
“A section of people within the community made all the efforts to derail the protest on reservations. They used their muscle power to suppress our voice. This win will be a befitting reply to them,” reiterated pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami.
Pontiff Vachanananda Swami termed the Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peetha pontiff faction as “jokers”.
“This event was organised for their political gains and they are hardly concerned about the sect and its people. I will give the least importance to the words of jokers and comedians,” fumed Vachanananda Swami.
He further said: “I will not take part in those events where I have no invitation. Instead of raising awareness about reservations they have indulged in delivering political speeches.”