Karnataka scraps separate reservation for Muslims; increases quota for Vokkaligas, Lingayats instead

Nearly a month before state assembly elections, the Karnataka government increases quota for dominant caste-groups.


THE Karnataka government on Friday decided to denotify Muslims from the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category in the state’s reservation matrix, leaving them to vie for representation under the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) quota.

Muslims in Karnataka enjoyed 4 per cent reservation in education and public employment, but would now have to contest within the 10 per cent quota set-aside for EWS. From the reserved seats freed up, Vokkaligas and Lingayats — both demographically, politically and economically dominant social groups within the state — will get 2 per cent each, increasing their share in the OBC reservation pool.

The announcement was made a day after a division bench of the Karnataka High Court vacated a January stay on the state government’s order creating two new OBC sub-categories for the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas. The high court lifted the stay after the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta assured the court that the new OBC sub-quotas would not affect the existing 15 per cent quota for other OBCs.

Karnataka is scheduled to go to polls in May this year, with the tenure of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly set to conclude on May 24. The Election Commission of India is expected to announce the dates for polling in the coming weeks, upon which its Model Code of Conduct would come into force.

The decision to take away specific reservation for Muslims and the simultaneous increase in the quantum of reservation for Vokkaligas and Lingayats may be seen as a political move geared up towards the next assembly elections. Vokkaligas and Lingayats possess considerable political clout, especially in rural Karnataka, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to secure their votes in the next assembly elections. The incumbent Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai also belongs to the Lingayat community.

Defending the decision, Bommai said, “There is no provision under the Constitution for reservation to religious minorities. It is not there in any state. In Andhra Pradesh, the [high] court struck down reservation to religious minorities. Even B.R. Ambedkar said clearly that reservation is for castes… Sooner or later, someone might challenge reservation to religious minorities. So, the government has taken a proactive decision.

In Karnataka, OBCs enjoy 32 percent reservation in higher education and public employment, under a formula demarcating reservation devised in 1994. This large OBC wedge is further subdivided into five thinner slices categorised as I, II(A), II(B), III(A) and III(B), under which different backward castes are subsumed based on the proportion of their populations, depending on the relative ‘backwardness’ of each group.

In the above formulation, the subcastes of the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas enjoyed reservation of 4 per cent and 5 per cent under categories III(A) and III(B) respectively. As noted above, the quantum of reservation has been increased by two percentage points each within the OBC category.

With the ruling BJP in concurrence over the demand by the two groups to increase their share in reservation, the party had been exploring ways to execute the demand in a way that doesn’t throw into disorder the overall reservation matrix of the state.

One of these options was to reduce the EWS category reservation to 6 per cent, a possibility aired by Karnataka Law Minister J.C. Madhuswamy at a news conference, who had argued that the eligible beneficiaries (such as Brahmins and other upper castes) of the 10 per cent EWS reservation did not constitute 10 percent of the state’s population.

However, the state government has instead decided to abolish the 4 per cent religion-specific quota for Muslims, in the process ensuring that the OBC share does not exceed 32 percent.