Is Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappa’s Lingayat support base intact? Though seers of 17 Lingayat mutts in the state have expressed solidarity with the chief minister, whose political future is under threat, one influential Lingayat seer – Basavajaya Mrityunjaya Swami – has remained lukewarm if not hostile.
Seer Basavajaya Mrityunjaya of the Koodalasangama Panchamasali Mahapeeta mutt, commands the respect of Panchamasali Lingayats who form close to 80 per cent of the Lingayat population. 'Lingayat' is an umbrella term to describe a community of 99 caste groups who follow the 12th Century social reformer and philosopher Basavanna. Some among the Lingayats identify with Hinduism, while others consider themselves part of a separate religion.
Lingayats form around 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population and are a strong political voting block.
‘Want a Panchamasali CM’
Talking to The Quint seer Mrityunjaya passed a backhanded remark about Yediyurappa’s political future, “When I met BJP’s Arun Singh, I told him that the current BJP government should fulfil its promises to the Panchamasalis before Yediyurappa resigns”.
The seer met BJP’s national general secretary and Karnataka in-charge, Arun Singh, in the third week of June. Singh had held a meeting in the state with all senior functionaries of the BJP including MLAs to quell their dissatisfaction with Yediyurappa’s government.
When asked whether he thinks Yediyurappa should resign before the completion of his term, which extends for another two years, the seer said, “We will not interfere in BJP’s political decisions. But, we want a Panchamasali CM next. That is if the High Command replaces Yediyurappa”.
Yediyurappa belongs to the Banajiga sect of the Lingayats. While seven of the Lingayat chief ministers of Karnataka, including Yediyurappa, were Banajiga Lingayats, two Congress CMs – S Nijalingappa and Veerendra Patil – were Panchamasalis.
In Karnataka, several political leaders of the BJP including Panchamasali Lingayat leader and MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, have been demanding resignation of the Chief Minister since May this year.
Why Are the Panchamasalis Miffed?
For the past 27 years, the Panchamasalis, who are mostly an agrarian sect, have been demanding reservations. This, however, became a mass movement only in December 2012. Back then, the community leaders led a march in Belgaum district asking the state government to include them in 2A category. In 2018, the seers under the leadership of seer Mrityunjaya sat on a hunger strike demanding the same.
The state government’s 2A reservation category consists of 102 communities who are mostly landless artisans. Panchamasalis currently fall in the 3A and 3B categories of landowning agricultural communities.
“We are a socio-economically backward community and we need reservation in education and employment,” seer Mrityunjaya said.
In February 2021, the Panchamasali leaders led a march from Belgaum to Bengaluru to demand 2A status. MLA Yatnal had also offered support to this march, even though Yediyurappa requested the Panchamasali seers to call off the protest. The march was followed by a dharna that started in February and extended till 15 March.
“The state government was shaken by our protest,” claimed the seer, who said that it was Panchamasali leader Yatnal who offered the most satisfactory political support.
In February this year, the BJP high command warned Yatnal and served him a showcause notice for publicly rallying against Yediyurappa.
The Panchamasali agitation bore fruit when the CM promised to take “appropriate action” regarding the 2A status within six months . On 15 March 2021, the CM said in the Legislative Assembly that he has asked the Backward Classes Commission and a three member committee to look into the demand and submit a report.
The Panchamasalis, however, think that the BJP government should grant the status in September, this year. “We want the BJP government to honour their commitment,” the seer said.
Why Not Support Yediyurappa?
“We have communicated clearly to Arun Singh that there are several leaders of the Panchamasali community who are eligible to be CM,” seer Mrityunjaya said, hinting Basanagouda Patil was mentioned in the discussion. The statement, in effect, would mean that the community does not want a Banajiga CM – Yediyurappa – anymore. “There are 80 lakh people who are there to support us and our demand,” the seer asserted.
Even though the Panchamasalis are a large part of the Lingayat vote, the BJP does not seem to be convinced by their demand. The party still seems to be looking for a strongman who can unite all the Lingayat sects. While Yediyurappa could do this for most part of his political career, his influence among the Panchamasalis has waned ever since the 2A status became a political rallying point.
In what seems to be an indication that the BJP high command would want to assess the Panchamasali conflict more closely, Arun Singh has told seer Mrityunjaya that “further discussion on the matter can be held in New Delhi”, the seer said.
Seer Mrityunjaya is expected to meet BJP leaders, including Home minister Amit Shah, in July. He said, “The BJP government could consider extending OBC reservation to all Lingayat sub-castes”.
Is the Seer considering Congress, JD(S) Backing?
While Lingayats have traditionally supported the BJP, the Panchamasalis think that they can also swing votes against the party. In the recent by-polls in Belagavi, Maski and Basavakalyan, the Lingayat votes swung against the BJP because of the party’s hesitation in awarding 2A status, the seer said.
“These districts form our stronghold. The BJP’s votes dropped here because of our influence,” the seer said.
In Maski, Pratap Gouda Patil of the BJP lost to Basanagowda Turvihal of the Congress by 30,606 votes. In Belagavi, the BJP’s Mangala Angadi beat Congress’ Satish Jarkiholi by just 5,240 votes. In Basavakalyan, Sharanu Salagar of the BJP beat Mala B Narayan Rao of the Congress by a margin of 20,629 votes.
“The results were not out and out against the BJP only because the party made a statement in favour of 2A status in March,” the seer said, hinting there could be severe backlash if the promise is not met soon.
The seer, however, said that the Panchamasalis are not considering other political allies. “We have been supporting the BJP. Our request to the party is to consider our demands because we have been supporting them. We have not tried to build other alliances,” the seer said.
Is Yediyurappa shaken by the Panchamasali show of strength?
On 10 June, the chief minister’s son BY Vijayendra held an informal meeting with several Lingayat seers, even as party leaders in the state were speculating about the CM’s ouster.
As 17 Lingayat seers issued a joint statement that called any affront to Yediyurappa an affront to the Lingayats, Vijayendra’s meeting was considered successful. Seer Mrityunjaya, however, brushed aside his counterparts’ solidarity statement. “No member of my community signed that statement. The statement does not reflect our concerns,” he told The Quint.
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