Members of certain Dalit communities, known as “touchable” Dalits, and Muslim groups have been protesting in Karnataka over the past two days demonstrating their opposition to the radical rejig of the reservation matrix proposed by the Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government after its Cabinet meeting on March 24.
On March 27, members of the Lambani and Bhovi communities tried to barge into former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s house in Shikaripura in Shivamogga district. A day later, the protests spread beyond Shivamogga to other districts in north and central Karnataka. Several tandas (villages where Lambanis reside) all over Karnataka have put up posters stating: “BJP legislators are not allowed.”
These communities have threatened to launch a Statewide protest from March 30 if the government does not drop its decision on internal reservation.
Muslims led by the Social and Democratic Party of India (SDPI) staged protests in Chitradurga, Hosapete, Koppal, and Bengaluru opposing the move to cancel the exclusive reservation given to the community after they were deemed to be a backward community by different Backward Class Commissions in Karnataka.
Responding to the SDPI protest, Chief Minister Bommai said: “SDPI is an anti-national organisation. Is it possible for them to appreciate my decision? I am not someone who will pay attention to their reprimand.”
While the BJP can get away by ignoring Muslims as it has traditionally not reached out to them for votes, it will be tough for the party to ignore the grievances of the protesting Dalits as they are considered to be BJP supporters.
Reason behind BJP’s decision
The BJP suffers from an image problem in Karnataka because of allegations of corruption, non-performance by Bommai, who is considered a weak leader, and the charge that Yediyurappa has been ignored. The party, therefore, decided to meddle with the reservation policy to win over voters in the run-up to the Legislative Assembly election scheduled to be held on May 10.
In the March 24 Cabinet meeting, the government decided to scrap the four per cent reservation for Muslims and redistribute it equally among Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the two powerful communities of Karnataka.
Muslims have been pushed to the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) pool, which means that they will have to compete with forward castes such as Brahmins.
The government also decided to recommend internal reservation within the quota for Scheduled Castes (SCs). Of the total quantum of reservation of 17 per cent for SCs in Karnataka, the Madigas have been allotted 6 per cent and the Holeyas 5.5 per cent, “touchable” Dalits 4.5 per cent and other Dalits 1 per cent.
The “touchable” Dalits include communities such as the Lambanis (also known as Banjaras), Bhovis, Korachas, and Koramas, who are strong supporters of the BJP.
The movement for internal reservation was led mainly by the Madigas, who alleged that even though their share in the Dalit population was the highest, other Dalit groups such as the Holeyas and the “touchable” Dalits were garnering most of the benefits of reservation meant for all Dalits.
While the BJP recommended internal reservation to placate the Madigas, the decision has left the “touchable” Dalits aggrieved, as they fear that their share in government employment and educational institutions will decline.
The BJP is suffering from an image problem in Karnataka because of allegations of corruption, non-performance by Bommai who is considered a ‘weak’ leader and the charge that senior Lingayat leader B. S. Yediyurappa has been ignored. Thus, the party has used the trump card of meddling with the reservation policy to make a positive impact on voters in the lead up to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections which are scheduled to take place on May 10.