New quota requests add to Karnataka's existing pile

  • Some of the requests by Karnataka caste groups are at least 5-10 years old, highlighting slow pace of progress
Members of the Panchamasali (Lingayat) community during a rally demanding for the inclusion of Lingayat community in the 2A reservation category, in Bengaluru, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021.(PTI)
Members of the Panchamasali (Lingayat) community during a rally demanding for the inclusion of Lingayat community in the 2A reservation category, in Bengaluru, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021.(PTI)
Published on Feb 22, 2021 09:28 AM IST
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BySharan Poovanna, Hindustan Times, Bengaluru

At least 36 caste groups in Karnataka await their turn for a change in reservation status and category as well as corrections in spellings, among other requests, before the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission, people aware of the developments said.

Some of these requests are at least 5-10 years old, highlighting the slow process and time taken for any changes related to caste groups in a state -- and the country -- where these communities are an integral part of electoral politics.

The pending applications indicate that fresh demands by at least four large communities in Karnataka -- Panchamasali, Kuruba, Vokkaliga and Valmiki -- over the last couple of weeks for better reservation categories and higher allocations, among other reasons, will have to wait their turn.

“The new requests (for change in reservation category) will take a long time as it involves carrying out studies on communities who are not concentrated in just one region but are spread out across the state,” said one person directly aware of the developments.

“This report is then given to the state government for further action,” the person cited above said, requesting not to be named.

The backward classes commission often resorts to seeking help from students at universities to collect data to make up for the shortage of personnel. The department has also continued with the services of retired officials who know the intricacies and complexities of reviewing caste categories and allocations, said the person.

While pressure to announce higher reservations, opportunities pile up on chief minister BS Yediyurappa, the list of demands from other caste groups continues to increase.

With elections just two years away, Yediyurappa has been making promises of increasing allocations and changing reservation categories to help consolidate groups that have traditionally backed the saffron party and those who are seen to side with the opposition parties to better its chances of returning to power in 2023.

According to political analysts, the increasing number of caste groups demanding changes makes it easier for Yediyurappa to reorganise the structure by moving everyone one step forward and not seen to be favouring any one of them.

“He may welcome the chance to renegotiate the caste representation. The resistance will come from backward castes who have to part with a portion from their existing quota (with a bigger community who may be moved up in category or allocations),” Narendar Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), said.

This resistance was capitalised by Siddaramaiah of the Congress who mobilised the AHINDA (Kannada acronym for Dalits, backward classes and minorities) and stormed to power with an absolute majority in the 2013 elections.

Though caste plays an important role in politics across the country, Karnataka takes it to a whole new level where each group has identified itself with the major parties in the state.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys the backing of the dominant Lingayats, while Dalits, communities that come under other backward classes and minorities back the Congress.

Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and his JD(S) rely heavily on the Vokkaliga’s, another dominant and politically influential community found largely in the Old Mysuru region.

In the hope of consolidating existing caste-based support, Yediyurappa has constituted a Brahmin board and administrative entities for Maratha and Lingayat communities in the state as well.

The saffron party does not yet have a credible replacement for the 77-year-old Yediyurappa, who has taken it upon himself to bring the party back to power with a majority on its own in 2023. To get a majority on their own, the BJP has to look beyond the existing support groups.

Also Read: Yatnal sets Yediyurappa new timeframe for 2A reservation for Panchamasali

Political analysts say that Siddaramaiah, a member of the Kuruba community, tried to challenge the existing dominant caste theory in the state after his rise to power as the chief minister with the backing of AHINDA.

His plan, however, to get the support of the Lingayats backfired when he, on the advice of some of his ministers, mooted to accord the community the status of a separate religion just before the 2018 assembly elections.

His proposal to distinguish between Veerashaivas and Lingayats cost him dearly in the 2018 elections and forced Congress to strike a coalition with its arch-rivals, the JD(S), to keep the BJP at bay.

A Social and Educational Survey-2015 or better known as caste census, commissioned by a Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in 2015, the first anywhere in the country since 1931, is yet to be officially released.

Though the leaked findings bring down the percentage of Lingayats and Vokkaliga, who were believed to account for around 17% and 14%, respectively to under 10%.

The renewed demands by the Panchamasalis, the largest sub-sect within the Lingayats, has now diluted the earlier consolidation and political demarcation, analysts say.

Influential seers of the Panchamasali sect have renewed their demand to be categorised under 2A from 3B category, experts on caste say.

“This is nothing but an attempt to scuttle the earlier unity and they have succeeded,” an expert on caste said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

The Kuruba community’s demand to be included in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category is an attempt by the BJP to mobilise a community that has so far firmly backed its tallest leader, Siddaramaiah.

The Valmiki, already classified as ST, have demanded an increase in allocation from 3.5% to 7.5%.

Yediyurappa has assured to “look into” all three requests as seers and pontiffs at influential Mathas (or monasteries) have the ability to swing votes in their respective strongholds.

All three campaigns have senior and prominent BJP leaders, including ministers, leading from the front.

Analysts say that if the Centre backs Yediyurappa, and does consider requests for better reservation opportunities, it would make more room for upper castes in the state.

If the Centre does move the politically-influential Kuruba community into ST category, then it would free up space to move the Lingayats and Vokkaligas a step higher, Pani said. “This also frees up quotas for upper castes who will now have more opportunities and play into the BJP’s narrative,” Pani added.

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