Bengaluru March 20: In a major political move in view of the impending Assembly polls in Karnataka, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress Government on Monday decided to recognise the dominant Lingayats and the Veerashaiva Lingayats, believers of Basava Tattva, as a separate religious minority. Subsequently, it lobbed the ball in the BJP-ruled Centre’s court for a notification in this regard under the Central Minority Commission Act.
In doing so, Siddaramaiah chose to ignore the dissent from within his own Cabinet even as the BJP asserted that the move would “boomerang” on the Congress.
The Veerashaivas have rejected the “divisive move” amid report of minor clashes with some celebrating Lingayats.
Slamming the decision, Opposition BJP leader in the Assembly Jagadish Shettar said the Siddaramaiah Government was dividing society for the sake of politics, keeping the election in mind and accused it of “igniting fire.” “The decision will boomerang on them,” he said.
Lingayats, who constitute around 19 percent of the State’s population and are traditional BJP supporters, have an impact on about 100 of the 225 Assembly seats in the State. Facing a stiff challenge from the BJP, whose leader in the State BS Yeddyurappa too is a Lingayat, the Congress’ move is seen as an attempt to kill two birds with one stone.
A division between the Lingayats and the Veerashaivas would benefit the Congress ’cause as it may lead to a dent in the BJP’s vote bank. By taking a decision on a demand that has been in place since 1942, the Congress is seeking to endear itself to the community and project itself to be championing the fraternity’s cause. But above all, by making a recommendation to the Centre, it seeks to put the BJP on a sticky wicket on the issue that has the potential of making or marring electoral fortunes in the State.
“After due deliberations and some discussions on concerns of various sections of society, the Cabinet has decided to accept the recommendations of the Karnataka State Minority Commission under section 2(d) of the Karnataka Minorities Act. It was also decided to forward the same to the Central Government for notifying under section 2(C) of the Central Minority Commission Act,” State Law Minister T B Jayachandra said.
The BJP and the RSS have been opposing such a move. There were differences within the Siddaramaiah’s Cabinet too as Ministers on both sides of the divide pitched for their respective causes.
The Veerashaiva Lingayat seers had warned the Congress dispensation against recommending the minority status for Lingayats alone. Hence, the Congress went ahead with according minority status to Lingayats, including Veerashaivas, who follow the teachings of the patron saint of the Lingayat community Basaveshwara.
Basaveshwara rebelled against established Hindu tradition by defying the caste system and Vedic rituals. In their bid for a separate religion status, the Lingayats wanted to dissociate themselves from Veerashaaivas, who adhere to the Vedas and Hinduism.
Earlier on Sunday, a group of Lingayat seers had met Siddaramaiah and urged him to implement the report of an official committee that recommended conferring a separate religious and minority status to their community. The Lingayats have been demanding a separate religion tag on the lines of Jainism and Buddhism and a delinking from Hinduism.
Ever since it came into its own, the BJP has been largely dependent on this dominant community as its vote bank. The community, which is spread across the State has a very vibrant economic base and supports the BJP.
The State Government appointed Justice Nagamohan Das committee in December 2017 to decide on the issue. The committee had recommended that Lingayats be identified as a separate religion.
On March 8, Water Resources Minister MB Patil and Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddi – both Lingayats – had argued in favour of going ahead with the Justice Das Committee report. However, they were strongly opposed by Municipal Administration Minister Eshwar Khandre and Horticulture Minister SS Mallikarjun. SS Mallikarjun is the son of All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha President Shamanur Shivashankarappa while Khandre has previously said that Veerashaivas and Lingayats should not be divided.
The movement for a separate religion tag, which was started as far back as 1942, was resurrected in 2017 by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s promise to look into the demand for a separate religion status for Lingayats and Veerashaivas.
A court case related to the issue in the Karnataka High Court is still being heard. The court had earlier put a rider on the process initiated by the Karnataka Government on the formation of the panel and its report and said further steps will be subject to the court’s final decision.
Sri Veera Someshwara Shivacharya Swami of Rambhapuri Peetha of Balehonnur, one of the seers heading the Veerashaiva camps, condemned the Cabinet decision.
He alleged that the recommendation may have got accepted following the “conspiracy of a few people,” but that Veerashaivas together will fight against it and are planning legal recourse.
“Chief Minister and others will have to face the disgrace of dividing the community. People will teach them a lesson,” he added