Karnataka govt moves to give Lingayats separate religion status
Karnataka’s Siddaramaiah-led Congress government on Monday accepted an expert committee’s recommendation, and accorded the status of a religion (a minority one) to the Lingayat sect, until now considered a part of Hinduism.
The move, which analysts see as an astute political move and opponents as an opportunistic one with an eye on the forthcoming state elections in Karnataka, acknowledges an almost four-decade long demand by the Lingayats.
Lingayats are followers of 12th century Brahmin saint Basavanna who rebelled against Brahminism and its ritualistic practices. He attracted followers from both upper and lower castes. After his death, his upper caste followers, the Veerashaivas adopted many of the very customs and practices Basavanna preached against, while the others, the Lingayats, didn’t. The hyphenated caste-grouping, Veerashaiva-Lingayat, was considered part of Hinduism. The Veerashaiva-Lingayat community accounts for around 16% of Karnataka’s population.
Addressing the press after the decision, state law minister TB Jayachandra said the state cabinet had discussed the fractious issue over two days. “We have decided to accept the recommendations of a committee that suggested that Lingayats should be granted religious minority status,” he said.
While the Lingayats lobbied for the recognition, the Veerashaivas, traditionally aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party, did not.
“After due deliberations and discussion on concerns of various sections of society, the cabinet has decided to accept the recommendation of the Karnataka minorities commission, which based on the report of an experts committee, recommended grant of recognition as a religious minority to the Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayat under section 2(d) of the Karnataka Minorities Act,” Jayachandra said.
“We will discuss the matter with the minorities commission when we consider the question of reservation, subject to the condition that such recognition would not affect the rights and interests of other minorities in the state,” he added.
The issue had been so fractious that there were divisions even among the Cabinet ministers of the state, with ministers MB Patil and Vinay Kulkarni taking the side of the Lingayats and Eshwar Khandre and SS Mallikarjun, the Veerashaivas.
Lingayats currently have 5% reservation and are classified as an Other Backward Class. A former chairman of the state Backward Classes Commission said that is unlikely to change.
The government has now sent the proposal to the central government to also notify the communities as minorities, and a state government notification will be issued pending this.
Lingayat sub-castes already benefit from reservations, said a member of the experts committee that recommended the religious minority status. “This is only a recognition that the sect is in fact not a part of Hindu religion,” the member added, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The issue turned fractious over the nomenclature of the new sect, with some demanding that it be called Lingayat and others demanding that it be named Veerashaiva-Lingayat.
The member of the experts committee cited above said the report was unambiguous in its recommendation that the sect would be called Lingayat, with the Veerashaivas forming a sub sect.
MB Patil, the state’s irrigation minister welcomed the move, terming it a historic decision. “Our demand was only that Basavanna’s sect should be accorded with separate religion status as it was a rejection of caste and ritual-based Hindu religion.”
Former chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Jagadish Shettar dismissed the move as a gimmick by the government ahead of the assembly elections, likely to be held in May. He added that things aren’t clear yet. “The proposal was routed through the minorities commission and there is a lot of confusion over the actual decision today.”
“Keeping the elections in mind, Siddaramaiah, who keeps talking about secularism through the day, works towards breaking a community. He will be taught an apt lesson in the polls,” Shettar said.
The move could work in favour of the Congress, an analyst said.
“The Veerashaivas can have no objection now because their concerns over the nomenclature have been incorporated into the decision,” said political analyst Narendar Pani who termed the decision a master-stroke by chief minister Siddaramaiah.
“It would appear that the Congress now has a very good chance of gaining some votes from Lingayats, who were considered the base of the BJP in the northern regions of the state,” he added.
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