By Sandhya Ravishankar
The Panchamasali seer is seated serenely on a sofa atop a dais set up under a tent just outside Freedom Park in Bengaluru. He is surrounded by a small clutch of followers, all of whom reverently touch his feet before finding a seat.
Since January 14, Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami of the Kudalasangama Mutt has sat in protest against the state government, demanding that Panchamasali Lingayats, a sub-sect of the dominant Lingayat caste in Karnataka, are added to the reservation category 2A instead of the current 3B.
“Panchamasalis are an economically backward community, largely comprising farmers and daily wage workers,” the Swami told The Lede. “Out of two crore Lingayats in the state, 1.3 crore are Panchamasalis,” he claimed.
The state government led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had passed an ordinance in October last year, hiking reservation for Scheduled Castes from 15% to 17% and for Scheduled Tribes from 3% to 7%.
This move roused the Panchamasalis into action, reiterating their long pending demand to be included into the 2A category in which other Lingayat sub-castes are present as well as a few smaller Backward Classes.
Large rallies later, Bommai relented and in January, announced a quota strategy that continues to baffle many.
In effect, 3A and 3B were renamed as 2C and 2D. Panchamasalis were brought into the 2D category with a promise of additional quota from the leftover EWS (Economically Weaker Section) seats.
But this did not satisfy the pontiff Basava Jaya Mrutyunjaya Swami. He has decided to sit in protest until the demand of the community is met.
“BJP Chief Ministers BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai both promised the reservation to us,” he said. “That is why we voted for them. On December 29, CM Bommai promised on his mother’s name that the demand would be met within a week. This decision that they have taken is a farce,” he said.
“Congress President DK Shivakumar and JDS leader Kumaraswami have both commented on the issue on television,” he continued, stating that none of them had personally contacted him. “However, Siddaramaiah continues to remain silent.”
The seer says that he hopes the Centre will take note of the demands of the community. “The Centre will 100% convince CM Bommai,” he said. “Prime Minister and Home Minister both know that the party is dependent on Panchamasalis. We are expecting both the PM and HM to fix this issue. Both the RSS and Minister Pralhad Joshi have expressed their support. There is no compromise this time,” he said.
What would he do if the demands are not met ahead of elections?
“We will tell all Panchamasalis in the state to vote only for those individual candidates who are supporting our reservation demand,” said the pontiff. “It is not going to be about the party but about individuals who support us.”