The move by the Siddaramiah-led Congress government in Karnataka to send a recommendation to the Centre for granting religious minority status to politically influential Lingayat community along with Veerashaiva Lingayat community just months ahead of Assembly Elections in Karnataka assumes political significance. The cabinet led by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah decided to accept the recommendations of the State Minority Commission after due deliberations and some discussions on concerns of various sections of society, Law Minister T B Jayachandra said. The issue is not new and has the capability of becoming one of the pivotal points in the upcoming elections.
Let’s take a look at possible impact of this move in Assembly polls
Congress to benefit?
Lingayats form 17 per cent of the state’s total population. By and large, the population has an impact on 100 seats out of 224 Assembly constituencies. The Congress hopes that the decision can get a favourable mandate from the Lingayat community. Also, by including Veerashaiva Lingayat in its recommendation, the Congress is trying to woo this other faction as well. It has been learnt that state ministers, who belong to Lingayats, are planning a rally in Bengaluru to mark the festival. State Congress leaders now feel that the ball is now in the BJP’s court as the Centre would have a final say in this matter. If approved, Congress takes the credit. If the central government rejects the recommendation, then Congress will put the onus on the BJP, reports said.
However, there were reports that Lingayats are not overwhelmed by the move, something that can dent the Congress big time in polls.
Catch 22 for BJP?
BJP, which is looking to dethrone the Congress government in Karnataka, has downplayed the move, though it cannot be denied that there are apprehensions over the impact. The Lingayat community is considered as a traditional vote base of the BJP. Its chief ministerial face B S Yeddyurappa belongs to the Lingayat community. BJP, which is wary of Congress gaining favour among Lingayats, feels that it will take time for people to assess the impact of the decision, according to reports. BJP has also accused Siddaramaiah of “playing with fire” for vote bank politics and carrying on with the ‘Divide and Rule’ legacy of Britishers in India.
Who are Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayat
Lingayats are one of the most influential communities in Karnataka and mostly live in north Karnataka. Lingayats follow Basavanna, a 12th century social reformer, and his philosophy. Veerashaivas worship Lord Shiva. It has been learnt that Veerashaivas are among 92 sub-castes of Lingayat. Both Lingayats and Veerashaivas’s practices and faiths are not similar. Veerashaivas are found in Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The debate over separate religion status
The demand for a separate religion tag for Lingayat and Veerashaiva is being debated by sections within the communities. One section led by Akhila Bharata Veerashaiva Mahasabha has claimed that Veerashaiva and Lingayats are the same and religious status be given to them. However, the other group wants it only for Lingayats as they believe that Veerashaivas are one among the seven sects of Shaivas, which is part of Hinduism.