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Caste fault lines re-emerge amidst political ferment

There is renewed demand to accept the caste census report that is said to show the count of two major communities as lesser than what is believed

The recent demands of the Kuruba and Valmiki communities for a better share in reservation, with the former seeking inclusion under ST and the latter demanding hike in reservation within ST, has again stirred the caste cauldron in Karnataka. Adding to the mix is the demand by the Panchamasali sect of Lingayats to be moved to 2A category under OBC.

These developments come amidst political ferment, with questions being repeatedly raised about the longevity of Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s leadership and a fiercely fought bypoll. A section reads it as a “backlash” against the political narrative of the State coming to be dominated by ‘upper’ castes (Vokkaliga and Lingayat) after a spell of Ahinda politics under Siddaramaiah. There is a renewed demand to accept the socio-economic survey (popularly known as caste census) report, which is said to show the count of the two major communities as being lesser than what is currently believed.

Mr. Yediyurappa, a Lingayat leader, reportedly sees these demands as “orchestrated” attempts from within the BJP to topple him. “The reservation matrix is like a beehive and Mr. Yediyurappa definitely doesn’t have the political capital to meddle with it. Fulfilling any of these demands would only mean reconstituting the matrix, an exercise that will leave none happy,” a leader close to him argued, seeing it as an attempt to “precipitate a political crisis”.

Senior Minister K.S. Eshwarappa, who in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly polls raised a banner of revolt against Mr. Yediyurappa with the Sangolli Rayanna Brigade, is leading the Kurubas’ demand for ST tag. The participation of a few RSS functionaries at related meetings has raised eyebrows. Though Mr. Siddaramaiah participated in the October 18 meeting, he is reportedly concerned over the “forces behind the movement” and has stuck to his demand for caste census report to be adopted by the government, sources close to the leader said. “I am not here to only talk of Kurubas. I am of the opinion that all communities with tribal characteristics must be given ST status,” he said after the meeting.

At the same meeting, Mr. Eshwarappa assured that the State government will accept the caste census report. Sources close to the Chief Minister said he was not consulted by the Minister on the matter and termed the assurance as “mischievous”. A senior BJP leader perceived to be close to the RSS and the high command said the recent re-emergence of Mr. Eshwarappa as an OBC leader was a challenge to Mr. Yediyurappa.

These developments also work as a counter to the prevalent argument that if there is a change of leadership, Mr. Yediyurappa has to be replaced by a Lingayat only. “The BJP may also be looking at cultivating a constituency beyond Lingayats,” said a leader.

Mahasabha’s stand

Meanwhile, sources in the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha said caste census in its present form “deliberately undercounts Lingayats”, as it counts subsects under various heads, some not attributed to the community. “We want all from Veerashaiva-Lingayat subsects to be counted together. We will challenge the report legally, if need be,” a senior functionary said. The mahasabha on its part, said it was not looking at an alternate leadership to Mr. Yediyurappa for now. It had recently anointed the Chief Minister’s daughter Aruna Udaykumar as the president of its women’s wing.

However, the entire community is not backing the Chief Minister either. Panchamasalis, a Lingayat subsect upset over lack of representation in the Cabinet, has raised a banner of dissidence demanding a better share in the reservation. BJP MLA Basavaraj Yatnal, who has repeatedly questioned Mr. Yediyurappa’s leadership, belongs to this sect. “Unlike before, the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community is not entirely behind Mr. Yediyurappa. There are fault lines and this is being exploited by sections within the BJP to topple him,” a source close to the Chief Minister said.

(This is the first of a two-part series.)

Valmiki leaders launch hunger strike

Some leaders of the Valmiki Nayaka community, including Sri Prasannanandapuri Swami of Valmiki Gurupeetha, began a 10-day relay fast in Bengaluru on Wednesday demanding increased reservation quota and other benefits.

Their demands include hiking the Scheduled Tribe quota to 7.5% from the current 3%, doubling of MLA seats reserved for the ST category, internal reservation for the Valmiki Nayaka community and rehauling of the ST list by removing some “undeserving communities” from the group.

The seer has set a deadline of October 30 for the State government to issue a notification accepting all these demands. He has called for a Bengaluru Chalo protest rally on October 31, if the demands are not met.

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