Bommai govt faces ire from communities for tweaking the reservation policy

The BJP government is relying on the Centre to pass an amendment justifying the hike and to give it legal sanctity

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai

Naheed Ataulla

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai's decision to tweak the state's Reservation Policy by providing internal reservation for the Scheduled  Castes, increasing the quota for the politically dominant Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities, and removing the Muslims from the backward classes category and adding them to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) pool last week saw the first outpouring of backlash on Monday.

The target was BJP's Lingayat strongman, former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. 

Upset with the Karnataka government's decision to recommend internal  reservation for the Scheduled Castes, the Banjaras or Lambanis, who were  taking out a protest march in his constituency Shikaripura in Shivamogga district pelted stones at  his  house.

The protesters demanded that either Yediyurappa or his son, MP B.Y. Raghavendra, should receive the memorandum, which resulted in a tense situation prompting the police to resort to lathi-charge. The protesters comprised members from the Banjara, Bhovi, Koracha and Korama communities, all of whom fall under the general Scheduled Castes category now.

The Karnataka cabinet on March 23, decided to pare down the 17 percent reservation earmarked for the Scheduled Castes by giving 6 percent  reservation to the SCs (Left sub sect), 5.5 percent to the SCs (Right sub sect), 4.5 percent  to the 'touchables' who are the Banjara, Bhovi, Koracha  and Korama and1 percent to the 'Are Alemaris' and 'Alemaris' (nomads).

In December 2022, the Karnataka legislature had passed The Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and of Appointment or Posts in Services) Bill to hike the reservations for the Scheduled Castes from 15 percent to 17 percent and  the Scheduled Tribes from 3 percent to 7 percent.

The internal reservation is based on the  recommendations of a cabinet  sub-committee headed by Law minister J.C. Madhuswamy, which was set up to study Justice A.J. Sadashiva's commission report submitted in 2012, which had suggested reclassification of the Scheduled Castes into Left, Right, 'Touchables' and Others.

The Siddaramaiah government was accused of not implementing the report during its tenure through 2013-18, which had angered the Left sub sects, who claim that all reservation benefits are being cornered by the politically and economically strong Right sub sects.

The Bommai government's move to modify the state's Reservation Policy,  when Karnataka is going to polls, has been slammed by both the Congress and the JD(S) parties.

Congress legislator and party's whip in the  Karnataka Legislative Council Prakash K. Rathod, who represents the Lambani community, told the National Herald that the  state government's intention is to weaken the  Reservation Policy and make the 101 sub sects of Scheduled Castes fight among  themselves. "They want to remove the Banjaras or Lambanis from the Scheduled Castes category, whose   total population is  nearly 40 lakh in the state,'' he asserted.

Rathod said the internal reservation is a move to woo the Left sect among the Scheduled Castes, who aligned with the BJP during the 2018 Assembly  elections. Among the reasons cited was the then Congress government  deferring decision on internal reservation.

"During the 2018 Assembly polls, the Left sub sect irrespective of party affiliation issued advertisements not to vote for the Congress, it was my party which stood with the  Lambanis,'' he  claimed. He said  in the 2018 Assembly polls, the Congress had given tickets to17 members representing the  Scheduled Castes (Left), but won just one seat, whereas of the four tickets given to Lambanis, three won.

Muslims are unhappy

The Bommai government is on a sticky wicket not just on the  internal reservation issue, as its move to scrap the 4 percent quota for the Muslims under the 2B category of the other backward classes (OBCs) has upset the community, who constitute 12.5 percent of the  state's total population.

The Muslims have now been placed under the Centre's Economically Weaker Section (EWS) 10 percent pool announced in 2021 for the upper caste poor, who are not covered by other reservations.

The 4 percent Muslims quota has now been equally distributed between the  Lingayats, who have 7 percent reservation and the Vokkaligas with 6 percent and placed under two new categories of 2D and 2C respectively.

Former Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha  and Congress leader K Rahman Khan said  there is no justification for the Bommai government to remove the Muslims from the  OBCs. "Under the EWS, the Muslims who have always been economically, educationally and socially backward have to compete with the  upper caste such as the Brahmins. The Lingayats and Vokkaligas are the forward communities in Karnataka, who don't need a backward tag,'' he maintained.

Who gave 4 percent reservation to Muslims?

With the  Muslims out of the OBC category, a fresh debate on who gave the 4 percent  reservation to them has commenced. The JD(S) claims it was H.D. Deve Gowda, who was Karnataka's Chief Minister from 1994 to 1996, while the Congress maintains it was done during  M Veerappa Moily's tenure in 1993.

Moily said he decided to give the 4 percent reservation based on a socio-economic survey of the minorities conducted when Rahman Khan was heading the Karnataka State Minorities Commission.

"Iinitially, I had given 6 percent to the Muslims and scaled it down to 4 percent as the total reservation came to 72 percent breaching the Supreme Court's cap on 50 percent. The survey had disclosed the  community's backwardness,'' he added.

Molly said reservations to  any community cannot be done through mere government orders. They have to be reviewed by the permanent   backward classes commissions at the states and Centre level. The revised policy has taken the reservation tally in Karnataka to 56 per cent - SC 17 percent, ST - 7 percent and OBC 32 per cent, against the 50 per cent cap imposed by the Supreme court. The BJP government is relying on the Centre to pass an amendment justifying the hike and to give it legal sanctity.

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