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Congress’ Shivasahankarappa opposes move to accept Lingayats as separate religion

The Veerashaivas and Lingayats were hitherto considered to be synonymous. However, while the Veerashaivas consider Basavanna as belonging to the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, the Lingayats consider him the founder of a sect that rejected caste and ritual-based Hinduism.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2018 23:39 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha,Lingayats,Separate religion
People belonging to Veershaiva Community protest against Karnataka government’s move to accept Lingayats as a separate religion, in Kalburgi.(PTI File Photo)

A day after the Karnataka government decided to accord minority status to the Lingayat and Veerashaiva-Lingayat communities, the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha president Shamanur Shivashankarappa said he opposed the decision because the government seemed to suggest that the sect originated with the 12th century philosopher Basavanna.

Shivashankarappa, a Congress leader and former minister whose son SS Mallikarjun is a cabinet minister in the current government, had welcomed the move on Monday, saying the demands of both communities had been kept in mind by the government.

On Tuesday, addressing the media in Davanagere, about 270km from the state capital, Shivashankarappa said clarity had come only after going through the decision once again. “The government is suggesting that the Veerashaiva sect was formed in the 12th century, which we completely oppose,” he said.

When asked about the rider in the cabinet note that those Veerashaivas who follow Basavanna’s philosophy would be considered a religious minority, Shivashankarapppa said all Veerashaivas, too, followed Basavanna’s teachings. “But our sect’s founder was Renukacharya and Basavanna was also one of the saints,” he said.

Shivashankarappa’s stand is especially crucial ahead of the state elections, likely to be held in May, as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa, who is a Lingayat, has said he will abide by the Mahasabha’s decision on the matter.

Speaking earlier in the day in Bengaluru, Yeddyurappa said: “I have said repeatedly that I will follow the Mahasabha’s decision. I call upon them to organise a meeting soon and discuss the matter.”

Shivashankarappa has called a meeting of the Mahasabha on March 23, when the government’s decision will be discussed.

The Veerashaivas and Lingayats were hitherto considered to be synonymous. However, while the Veerashaivas consider Basavanna as belonging to the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism and follow Hindu rituals, the Lingayats consider him the founder of a sect that rejected caste and ritual-based Hinduism.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah has attempted to woo voters belonging to the electorally dominant Lingayat sect, who are believed to be strong supporters of Yeddyurappa, and the BJP by extension. However, the decision to accord religious minority status has created fissures even within his own party, with some championing the cause and others, like Shivashankarappa, opposing it.

Responding to Shivashankarappa’s statement, minister for mines and geology Vinay Kulkarni, who was at the forefront of the demand for separate religion status, said the Veerashaivas were free to opt out of the minority status. “For us Lingayats, Basavanna was the founder of our sect and there can be no doubt about that. If they wish to continue to call themselves Hindus, they are free to do so,” he said.

Kulkarni said the final decision of the cabinet had been welcomed by ministers who were close to the Veerashaivas. “At that time they were happy and we, too, were happy, because the demands of both communities had been kept in mind.”

At present, both the Lingayats and Veerashaiva-Lingayats are considered backward groups and are entitled to five percent reservation in educational institutions.

First Published: Mar 20, 2018 23:38 IST