THE PANCHAMASALIS, a dominant sub-sect of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, are on a 450km padyatra to Bengaluru from Koodalasangama in Bagalkot, the resting place of Basavanna, the founder of Lingayatism. Their demand—a move from 3B (which assures 5 per cent reservation) to 2A category (15 per cent) within the state’s OBC quota.
At present, Karnataka has a 15 per cent quota for scheduled castes (101 castes), 3 per cent for scheduled tribes (50 groups) and 32 per cent for OBCs (207 castes). There are five sub-categories within the OBCs. The numerically strong Panchamasalis currently share their 5 per cent reservation with various other caste groups, besides Marathas, Jains, and Christians.
“The Panchamasalis are farmers and a majority are socially, economically, and educationally backward and need reservation under 2A,” said padayatra leader Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami of Panchamasali Peetha in Koodalasangama.
The march has embarrassed Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, the tallest Lingayat leader in the state, at a time when the ruling BJP is searching for his political successor. It has been only a few years since the community—encouraged by Congress ministers M.B. Patil and Vinay Kulkarni—had demanded a minority religion tag for itself. While that movement seems to have fizzled out after the Congress lost 14 seats in the Lingayat belt (Mumbai-Karnataka region) in the assembly elections, Yediyurappa is finding it difficult to hold on to the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, a force in over 100 assembly constituencies.
In November, Yediyurappa had pushed for Veerashaiva-Lingayats to be included in the Central OBC list; this would have given them a share in the 27 per cent quota in Central government jobs and educational institutions. However, the party’s central leaders reportedly killed the move. Yediyurappa then hastily set up a Veerashaiva-Lingayat Development Corporation with a corpus of ₹500 crores to pacify the community.
In 1996, Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda had used his political clout to include the Vokkaligas, a landholding community, in the Central OBC list. Decades later, his Janata Dal (Secular) still reaps political gains.
“The Lingayat community has 99 sub-sects, but the Panchamasali sub-sect accounts for 80 per cent, with a population of nearly 85 lakh,” said Swami Vachanananda, the pontiff of Panchamasali Jagadguru Peetha, Harihara. “The community has had great leaders like Akka Mahadevi, Rani Keladi Chennamma, Rani Belawadi Mallamma, and, of course, chief ministers S. Nijalingappa and J.H. Patel. [But] it lacks adequate political representation.”
The stakes are high for Yediyurappa. The Panchamasali pontiffs who used to back Yediyurappa—who belongs to Ganiga (oil-pressers) sub-sect—are now rallying behind Panchamasali leaders and BJP ministers C.C. Patil and Murugesh Nirani, and Yediyurappa’s bitter critic and Vijayapura MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal.
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