Chief Minister K Siddaramaiah’s move to grant special religious status to Lingayat community appears to have put the Bharatiya Janata Party in a big dilemma. The Lingayats, which form 17 per cent of the votes in the state, are known to be the traditional supporters of the BJP. In fact, the saffron party’s chief ministerial candidate, BS Yeddyurappa, too belongs to the Lingayat community. The move has left the BJP in a fix, neither opposing nor supporting the move. If the BJP, at Centre, grants the special status tag to the community, the credit may go to Congress resulting in significant electoral gains. On the other hand, if it opposes the move, it may end up hurting the sentiment of the community, and the BJP’s chances too.
Soon after the announcement, the BJP had termed the move as ‘hypocrisy’. “If there is an Oscar for hypocrisy it must go to @RahulGandhi. He waxed eloquent yesterday on unity, love & fraternity between all Today his virulent CM @siddaramaiah recommended dividing followers of Basavanna into separate ‘minority religion’ – something unheard of in the past,” the Karnataka BJP tweeted.
However, Yeddyurappa, didn’t say a word in opposition and appealed Veerashaiva Mahasabha to immediately hold a meeting. “Now that the state government has come up with this recommendation, the all India Veerashaiva Mahasabha should immediately call a meeting, discuss the pros and cons of this recommendation and be a guiding light to society. This is my appeal,” said Yeddyurappa in his statement.
Some of the ardent BJP supporters also pointed out that it was BS Yedurappa who had first raised the issue of minority status to Lingayat’s and the then Manmohan Singh-led Congress government had rejected it, while ministers and senior office bearers from BJP took the charge to slam Congress for ‘hypocrisy’ and playing ‘divisive politics’.
BJP’s Karnataka in-charge P Muralidhar Rao slammed Siddaramaiah for practicing a “divide and rule” policy. “Congress carrying ‘Divide and Rule’ legacy of Britishers in India. Siddaramaiah ji is playing with fire for vote bank politics. Why has Congress done this before elections? Why haven’t they done it 4 years back?” he said in a tweet.
“Several demands were made in the past and even the Maharashtra government had also sought a separate religion tag for Veerashiva-Lingayat sect. But the then UPA government in 2013 rejected it,” the parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Hegde told the reporters outside parliament.
Clearly, Siddaramaiah’s move is a planned counter to the BJP, which will be is hoping to dethrone the Congress in the state this time around. The Congress though sees itself in a win-win situation. However, the Veershavai Lingayat Mahasabha, the largest religious body has objected to the move, hinting that it would lead to divisiveness in society. The Mahasabha will take a final call on March 23 to discuss the issue. A decision opposing the government move may still spoil Congress’ plans to make electoral gains out of the move.