BENGALURU: In a bold political gamble that could prove decisive in the coming assembly elections in Karnataka, the Siddaramaiah cabinet on Monday approved the recommendation of a panel to accord separate religious minority status for the dominant Lingayat community.
The state government will now send the recommendation to the BJP-led Union government for approval.However, the cabinet decision is subject to the ruling of the Karnataka High Court which is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitution of Justice Nagmohan Das Committee which recommended separate religion status for Lingayats.
The demand to recognize the Lingayat faith as a religion is an old one. What the Government has done is a recognition of a fact acknowledged as far back as the Mysore Census of 1871.— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) March 20, 2018
Those in BJP accusing us of dividing religion better listen to the Lingayat-Veershiva community
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who was caught in the cross-fire between Veerashaivas and Lingayats over the issue, tried to do a balancing act to extricate himself and the Congress from trouble by incorporating even Veerashaiva-Lingayats who believe in the Basava philosophy under the ambit of Lingayats. The recommendation considers Veerashaiva-Lingayats as part of Lingayats.
The Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, which constitutes about 17% of the state’s population, has been the solid vote base of BJP’s chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa. Siddaramaiah’s move is seen as part of a strategy to draw a significant share of them towards Congress.
However, Siddaramaiah has taken a huge risk in pushing ahead with his gambit as the issue could backfire. Protests erupted in Kalaburagi and a few other parts of the state immediately after the cabinet decision. Prasanna Renuka Veerasomeshwar Shivacharya Swamiji of Rambhapuri peetha, a prominent Lingayat mutt, opposed the decision and threatened to launch a statewide protest. BJP called the move an attempt to divide the community.
But Siddarmaiah could heave a sigh of relief as the Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha welcomed the decision. Mahasabha president Shamanuru Shivashankarappa said, “We support the decision as even Veerashaiva-Lingayats have been made part of the separate religion.”While Veerashaiva section of the Veerahsaiva-Lingayat community led by the Mahasabha has been batting for separate religion status arguing that Veerashaivas and Lingayats are the same, the other group wanted only Lingayats to be recognized as a religion, as they believe that Veerashaiva is one of the seven Shaivite sects that are part of Hinduism.
Briefing reporters, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister T B Jayachandra said the cabinet has accepted the State Minority Commission report in accordance with the recommendation of the Justice Nagmohan Das Committee to grant “religious minority status to Lingayats, and Veerashaiva-Lingayats who believe in the 12th century social reformer Basava’s philosophy.”
The recommendation considers Veerashaiva-Lingayats as part of Lingayats. It states that all those who believe in Basava philosophy, accept Vachanas as their religious text and accept the system of donning the Linga could be considered Lingayats. The decision is seen as a shrewd move to weaken the agitation that was launched by Veerashaiva Mahasabha against “dividing the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community”. The state government has decided to accord minority status for Lingayats and Veerashaiva-Lingayats under Sec 2(d) of the Karnataka Minority Commission Act and forward the recommendation to the Centre to accept it under Section 2(c) of the National Minorities Commission Act, Jayachandra said.