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Political masterstroke? Karnataka govt tweaks reservation quotas with an eye on elections

Scraps 4% Muslim quota, boosts quota for Vokkaligas and Lingayats

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai | Twitter/CMofKarnataka Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai | Twitter/CMofKarnataka

On the threshold of the Assembly polls in Karnataka, the BJP government led by Basavaraj Bommai tweaked the SC/ST and OBC reservation quota to accommodate the long pending demands for enhanced quotas from the various communities.

On Friday, Bommai who chaired the last cabinet of his tenure, scrapped the existing four per cent reservation (2B category) for Muslims under the OBC quota and moved them to the 10 per cent pool for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) to enhance the quota for Lingayats and Vokkaligas by two per cent each.

The Panchamasali Lingayat, a dominant subsect of the Lingayat community and core votebank of the BJP had been demanding for a change in reservation category from 3B (5 per cent) to 2A (15). A similar demand was made by the Vokkaliga community, which enjoyed four per cent reservation under the 3A category in the OBC list. The BJP which is hoping to make inroads in the Old Mysuru region this elections was quick to evolve a formula to appease the Vokkaligas. The Bommai government created two new categories under the OBC list - 2A for Vokkaligas and 2D for Lingayats to enhance the quota to 6 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

The Panchamasali Lingayat agitation had stressed out the BJP government as there is a 50 per cent cap on SC, ST and OBC reservation imposed by the 1992 judgement of the Supreme court (Indira Sawhney vs Union of India). Moreover, the Panchamasali Lingayats shared the five per cent quota with other Veerashaiva-Lingayat caste groups, besides, Maratha, Jain, Christian, Bunt and Satani caste groups and shifting them from 3B to 2A category was bound to upset the 102 castes including Kuruba, Idiga, Devadiga, Kumbara, Vishwakarma and Tigala that are already availing benefits under 2A.

"The Muslims have been shifted from 2A to EWS quota as there is no Constitutional provision for reservation for religious minorities. As per Dr Ambedkar too reservation is for the caste alone. However, my government has decided to move the minorities to EWS as both the old and new categories have the economic criterion," said Bommai who briefed the media after the cabinet meeting.

The BJP which succeeded in breaching the Congress's 'Ahinda' (minorities, Dalits and backward classes) votebank by winning over the SC(left) communities, pushed for the internal quota for SC reservation on the lines of the OBC sub quotas. The internal quota issue had been put on the backburner by previous governments fearing a backlash from the dominant SC communities that had cornered the benefits. The internal quota was recommended by Justice AJ Sadashiva Commission (formed in 2005) in its report submitted in 2012. 

Last December, the Karnataka legislature passed 'The Karnataka Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and of Appointments or posts in the services under the state) Bill, 2022', during the winter session in Belagavi last December, to hike the reservation for SCs from 15 per cent to 17 per cent and for STs from 3 per cent to 7 per cent.

Subsequently, the Bommai cabinet approved the internal quota that is expected to do justice to the marginalised SC (Left) communities, which are unable to fight it out with dominant SC communities.

Citing the Article 341(2) of the Constitution, Bommai said the SC community had been divided into four groups.

"Among the 'untouchables', the SC (Left) - Madiga, Adi Dravida and Bambi will now get 6 per cent reservation and SC (Right) which includes Adi Karnataka Holeya and Chalavadi will get 5.5 per cent. Among the 'touchables', the Banjara, Bhovi, Koracha and Korama will get 4.5 per cent and Are Alemari and Alemari (nomads) will get the remaining one percent," explained Bommai.

It may be recalled that the state cabinet, on October 8, 2022, had accorded its formal approval to increase the SC/ST quota based on the recommendation by the Justice H.N. Nagamohan Das. An ordinance was also passed. However, the BJP government wrote to the Centre seeking a constitutional amendment to bring its decision to hike SC/ST reservation under the 9th Schedule of the Constitution only on March 23, 2023, after the Congress sensed an opportunity and staged a protest against the "injustice" being meted out to the SC/ST community by BJP.

The revised policy has taken the reservation tally in Karnataka to 56 per cent - SC 17 per cent, ST - 7 per cent and OBC 32 per cent, against the 50 per cent cap imposed by the Supreme court. However, the BJP government is relying on the Centre to pass an amendment justifying the hike and to give it legal sanctity.

Even as the BJP is asserting that the changes to the reservation structure is a move towards "social justice and inclusiveness", it is certainly a political masterstroke to win the support of different communities.

CLP leader Siddaramaiah slammed the BJP for scrapping the 2A category (4 per cent quota for Muslims) and redistributing it among the Lingayats and Vokkaligas. "It is an effort to breed animosity between the communities," said Siddaramaiah.

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