Bengaluru: Some call it a masterstroke. Some call it a political hara-kiri. The beleaguered chief minister of Karnataka, BS Yediyurappa, has played a huge gamble by proposing to make his caste Lingayats, Other Backward Class or OBCs. He has played another gamble by constituting a separate body for them – Veerashaiva – Lingayat Development Corporation. Both the decisions have triggered a political storm, threatening to divide the state further on caste lines, apparently angering the RSS.
Although the nervous chief minister has put the decision on hold after a frantic call from the BJP high command in New Delhi opposing the move, Yediyurappa has already let the genie out of the bottle.
Political pundits are divided over what actually prompted the 78-year-old stalwart to gamble at this age. Some argue that he has done it to save his shaky chair by consolidating the support of Lingayats in his favour. The others feel that it is just an impulsive decision, which has backfired badly further eroding his authority over the government and the BJP.
The Lingayats are the single largest caste in Karnataka after the Scheduled Castes or the SCs. The upper caste Shaivaites, who even call themselves a separate religion, founded in the 12th century by a great social reformer Basavanna, are politically and economically the most influential pan Karnataka caste. Yediyurappa is considered their undisputed leader with a huge mass following among them.
Some Lingayats are not happy with forming just a Development Corporation and are demanding 16% reservation on the lines of Maratha reservation in neighbouring Maharashtra. They claim that majority Lingayats are extremely poor and it is a misconception that all are well off.
Making them OBCs enables them to get reservation in state and central government jobs. But, the other castes which are already OBCs are jittery about the move to make Lingayats OBCs and they are flexing muscles to prevent this by demanding that some of them should be added to SCs or STs, further complicating the issue.
After he formed the Lingayat Development Corporation, at least 50 other castes have come forward demanding similar boards and corporations for them.
According to some insiders, Yediyurappa’s move has upset the RSS mightily, which believes in the Hindu unity and wants the people to rise above caste affiliations. They feel that Yediyurappa has knowingly or unknowingly undone something that the RSS has painstakingly built over the years.
When top Lingayat leader in the Congress MB Patil led a movement for a separate Lingayat religion tag, three years ago, the same Yediyurappa had accused him of trying to divide the Hindu religion. Now his critics are citing the same example to embarrass Yediyurappa.
MB Patil, the second most influential Lingayat leader after Yediyurappa, is maintaining a radio silence over the current happenings. He refused to comment on the developments saying he is just watching the unfolding events carefully.
But his followers are now taunting the BJP and RSS saying that their own man Yediyurappa has now divided the Hindu religion and not MB Patil.
“It is a fact that Basavanna founded the Lingayat religion to fight the Hindu caste system. He wanted to create an egalitarian, casteless society. We are certainly a separate religion. But, Yediyurappa is now dividing the entire Hindu religion on caste lines by constituting boards and corporations for every caste. What is RSS’ stand on this?” asked one of the leaders of the separate Lingayat religion.
The Congress, which is aware of the sensitive nature of whole issue, is treading cautiously by issuing measured reactions.
If and when Yediyurappa forwards the reservation for Lingayats recommendation to the Centre, the BJP government in New Delhi will have to handle it with utmost care as any misadventure might cost the saffron party dearly in future.
Only the time will tell whether Yediyurappa has trapped the high command or shot himself in the leg by opening a Pandora’s Box.