With barely five months left for the 2023 Assembly polls in Karnataka, leaders and pontiffs from Panchamasali — a sub-sect of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community — are making all the efforts to get reservation under Category 2A of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Harihara Panchamasali Peetha pontiff Vachanananda Swami, Karnataka’s Minister for Large and Medium Scale Industries Murugesh Nirani, and other prominent persons from the Panchamasali sect recently met Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and appealed to the state government to hasten the process of providing OBC status to the community at the earliest.
Responding to the demands, Bommai reportedly assured them of bringing the various communities — including Panchamasali — under Category 2A of the OBC quota, based on the report of the Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes.
At present, Panchamasali is categorised under 3B, which enjoys 5 percent reservation. Communities that come under 2A are entitled to get 15 percent reservation. There are already over 200 castes under this category.
Panchamasalis are said to have the highest population among the sub-groups of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community in Karnataka, and they are also considered dominant within the community.
It is also believed to be the dominant sect in politics, mainly in North Karnataka.
History of demands
The sect has been demanding Category 2A status for the past two decades. However, it gained prominence after Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peeta pontiff Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swamy carried out a padayatra (march), for about 450 kilometres, from Bagalkot’s Kudalasangama to Bengaluru in January 2021.
“I have expressed concerns to the chief minister about the delay in providing Category 2A reservation to the Panchamasali and other sub-sects of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community. He has assured us of fulfilling all the demands of the community. We are confident that the state government will provide justice to us at the earliest,” Harihara Panchamasali Peeta pontiff Vachanananda told South First.
“The backward classes commission is yet to submit a report to the government. The chief minister has assured us of giving 2A reservation to Panchamasali based on the report,” Nirani told South First.
Asked whether any timeframe has been given to the commission to submit the report, Nirani said, “I have no information regarding the timeline given to the commission. We have appealed to the government to finish the survey and study works and submit the report at the earliest.”
Commission yet to submit report
After the leaders and pontiffs from Panchamasali pressured the then chief minister BS Yediyurappa to accord Category 2A reservation to this sect, he ordered a detailed assessment and socio-economic study of the Panchamasali, entrusting the job to Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes, in February 2021.
Even after nearly two years, the commission is yet to submit a report to the government. It started the second phase of the survey and study work in June this year.
“The survey and study are yet to be carried out in 14 districts of the state. We have finished the study in the remaining districts. We are collecting the information about the social, economic and educational status of the people belonging to the Panchamasali sect,” the commission’s Chairman K Jayaprakash Hegde told South First.
When asked about the timeline to complete the survey work, he said, “We have also sought certain data such as employment status from the various departments. There is no time bound to submit a report. However, we will submit the report at the earliest.”
Factions within Panchamasali sect
Though the pontiffs and leaders of the dominant sect of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community are fighting hard to get Category 2A reservation for it, the sect is a divided house.
Senior BJP leader and MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and Kudalasangama Peetha pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami spearhead one group, while minister Murugesh Nirani and Harihara Peetha pontiff Vachanananda Swami lead another.
It may be noted that when Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami launched the padayatra, Nirani, Yatnal and other leaders participated in it.
However, when Nirani was included in the state Cabinet, he was quick to distance himself from the 450-kilometre padayatra.
“The padayatra was carried out against the state government. When I was part of the government after the Cabinet expansion, how should I take part in this agitation?” asked Nirani.
On the allegation that Panchamasali is a divided house, Nirani pointed out, “A section of leaders tried to portray me as a villain. One should not forget that it was I who launched the agitation to get Category 2A reservation to the community.”
Lashing out at Nirani, pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami said, “The government is delaying the providing of reservation to the Panchamasali sect because of Nirani. He is using his muscle power to prevent the government from giving Category 2A status to the sect.”
The pontiff of Kudalasangam Panchamasali Peetha said: “He and another pontiff (referring to Harihara Peetha) of the sect are worried about credits. If the government fails to provide Category 2A reservation by 19 December, we will lay siege to the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha on 22 December.”
Vachanananda Swami said: “Harihara Peetha was the first to demand Category 2A reservation for the sect in the late 1990s. We provided all the relevant documents to the authorities concerned. There will be no factions in the sect once we get the reservation.”
How influential is the sect?
The Veerashaiva-Lingayat or Lingayat community is the dominant community in terms of population and also in politics in the state — mainly in the north Karnataka region.
Meanwhile, the Vokkaliga community is dominant in South Karnataka. Lingayats are estimated to be around 18 percent of the state’s population.
It may also be noted that Karnataka has had 23 chief ministers since 1956, nine of whom are Lingayat, five Vokkalinga, and the remaining are from various communities such as Adiga and Devadiga.
Former chief ministers S Nijalingappa, BD Jatti, SR Kanti, JH Patel, SR Bommai, BS Yediyurappa and Jagadish Shettar all belonged to Veerashaiva-Lingayat community. Even the current Karnataka chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai, is from the same community.
Karnataka currently has 58 MLAs from the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community — 38 from the BJP, 16 from the Congress, and four from the JD(S).
Vokkaliga is the other dominant community, which has 42 Karnataka MLAs from the three parties.
In fear of losing Lingayat votes, the BJP opted for Basavaraj Bommai — a Lingayat leader — as a successor to Yediyurappa in 2021. Bommai, who represents the Shiggaon Assembly segment, is the son of former chief minister SR Bommai.
Political analyst and Lokaniti national coordinator Sandeep Shastri explained: “Lingayats are one of the critical players in Karnataka politics. The Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities are dominant in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly as half of the elected members hail from these two communities.”
He told South First: “BS Yediyurappa is a dominant and influential Lingayat leader. It was the BJP’s decision to replace him with Bommai, a strong leader from the same community, which was agreed to by Yediyurappa. They found the right replacement to consolidate the Lingayat votes.”
Asked whether other parties would have an edge because of the diminishing stature of Yediyurappa, Shastri pointed out, “It all depends on Yediyurappa, on how he pursues and projects himself in the run-up to the elections.”
He added: “Both the Congress and the BJP have groupism. The ones who are better at sorting out the issues are likely to do better in the upcoming polls.”