There’s more to minority status for Lingayats than just  politics
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There’s more to minority status for Lingayats than just politics

With the assembly elections in Karnataka round the corner, the timing of granting of minority religious status is being questioned

editorials Updated: Mar 20, 2018 18:17 IST
Karnataka minister for mines and geology Vinay Kulkarni with Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swamiji of Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peetha and his followers celebrate after the Karnataka government decided to write to the Centre to grant religious minority status to the Lingayat community in Bengaluru (PTI)

Those who are arguing that the Karnataka government’s move to grant minority religious status to the Lingayats of Karnataka will set Hindus against each other and is an attempt at divide and rule by the Congress are seeing the whole issue in purely political and religious terms. This is inevitable, given the forthcoming assembly elections in the vital southern state, which the Congress is desperate to hold on to and the BJP determined to breach and set up its gateway to the south. But the BJP finds itself in a dilemma with its tallest leader in the state, BS Yeddyurappa, supporting the move by the Siddaramaiah government to grant this status to the politically powerful Lingayats.

The Lingayat mutts have been a strong support base for the BJP over the years. With this particular demand having been around for years, the question, of course, is the timing. And that clearly is political. But had it not been seen through the prism of populist politics, such a move would have been nothing unusual. In the first place, those arguing on television debates and other forums seem to have little understanding of the origins or tenets of this movement. In AK Ramanujan’s translation of one of the poems of Basavanna, the 12th century founder of the Lingayats, he says, “The pot is a God/ The winnowing fan is a God/ The stone in the street is a God/ The comb is a God/ The bowstring is also a God/ The bushel is a God and the spouted cup is a God.” In other words, it was not driven by the tenets of Hinduism or any other religion at all. Basavanna, in fact, rejected the supremacy of Brahmin priests, ritualism, caste and other features of Hindu society at that time. His was in essence a reformist movement, one of several that have been accommodated under the umbrella of Hinduism over the centuries. It is a different matter that what was a new egalitarian faith got eroded over the years with many Lingayats today reverting to Brahminical rites and rituals and emerging as a political power bloc sought after by both the BJP and the Congress.

Accommodating many sects and giving them autonomy and empowerment is nothing new. Nor is conflict between different schools of Hinduism. This is why Hinduism, a religion without a book, pope or any rigid commandments is considered more a way of life. Not all Lingayats, who are also found in Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, want a separate religion. They consider themselves a part of Hinduism, albeit with distinctive features. All this has been obscured as the battle for Karnataka gains momentum. What could have been a debate on the assimilative genius of Hinduism will now be reduced to a discussion about electoral mathematics and vote banks.

First Published: Mar 20, 2018 18:16 IST