Protests in Karnataka Over New Reservation Policy Ahead of State Polls

The Basavaraj Bommai government has removed the 4% reservation which the Muslims in the state accessed so far. Under changed rules, Muslims have now been brought under the EWS category, which the community is opposed to.

Bengaluru: The new reservation policy, announced by Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai on March 25, which was welcomed by Lingayats and a section of the Dalits, has now drawn the ire of the Muslim, Vokkaliga and Banjara communities, as they staged protests in different parts of the state on Monday, March 27.

The BJP government removed the 4% reservation that the Muslims had so far accessed and added the same equally between the state’s powerful caste groups – Lingayats and Vokkaligas – taking their quota to 5% and 7%, respectively. The Muslims have been moved to the EWS (economically weaker sections) category which has a total of 10%; they have to share the same with a few groups like the Jains and Brahmins.

The Congress opposed the new policy soon after it was announced, following a cabinet meeting held in the wake of a court order which vacated the stay to the government’s earlier decision on quota.

On Sunday, March 26, Union home minister Amit Shah and state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar joined the reservation issue. In the public meetings held in Bidar and Raichur, Shah said that giving quotas based on religion was against the constitution. He also congratulated the Bommai government for its “bold decision”.

On the other hand, Shivakumar lashed out at the state government, saying it was done purely in the light of elections and added that with the new policy, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was pitting one community against the other. He charged that Bommai had called up the Lingayat and Vokkaliga pontiffs “at least 25 times” asking them to welcome the decision.

On Monday, March 27, parts of the state saw some protests – the Banjara community held a procession in Shikaripura (in Shivamogga district), the constituency of former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa. The march turned violent after the protesters threw stones at his house. They were protesting against the decision to accord internal reservation to the Scheduled Castes by increasing the quota for SCs from 15% to 17% and also providing internal reservation. They feared that the Banjara community may be kept out of SCs because of internal reservations. Soon after the violence, Bommai assured the Banjaras that they will continue to stay as part of the SCs.

In Raichur, a group of Muslims protested against the quota decision. Congress MLA Rizwan Arshad said that the BJP government, with one stroke, overturned the Muslim quota which was in existence for 30 years. Bommai had said that he was daring enough to enter the beehive to bring out the honey for the deserving communities, referring to the newly expanded reservations. He had said that even Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was opposed to reservation based on religion.

It appears that the reservation system as prevailed earlier was conveyed to Amit Shah when Shah called on the former. Also, some of the legislators from the state who met Shah said that the 4% quota of Muslims be transferred to Lingayats and Vokkaligas.

The state government will have to now send the Cabinet decision to the Union government for introducing it in the parliament so that it can be enacted as a law.

B.S. Arun is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru.