Now, Lingayats in Maharashtra want separate religion status, too
Following the decision taken by the neighbouring Karnataka government to grant the Lingayat sect thre status of a separate religion and promise of benefit of reservation for minorities, the community is likely to put pressure on the Maharashtra government for the same.
The community’s outfits have planned a rally in Aurangabad on April 8 for their demand for recognition as a separate religion. Significantly, the Maharashtra government’s recommendation for giving minority status to the community was turned down by the Centre in 2014.
Lingayats are followers of 12th century saint Basavanna who rebelled against Brahminism and its ritualistic practices. They are considered as a sect within the Hindu religion, but some Lingayat groups have been demanding the status of a separate religion for a while.
After Karnataka, Maharashtra has significant number of Lingayats. In Karnataka they constitute 16% of the population, while in Maharashtra the community groups said they make up 6-7% of the population. They are mostly located in central and western Maharashtra, especially in districts bordering Karnataka, and play a significant role in politics in the region.
“About 40 organisations representing the community from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana are coming together to join the protest march on April 8 in Aurangabad under the banner of the coordination committee. We are also planning a massive march in Mumbai after it; its details will be announced in Aurangabad,” said Shivling Shivacharya Maharaj, one of the religious gurus who is convening the march.
Though the Karnataka government’s decision to give status of religious minority to Lingayats has revived a ray of hope for the community in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra government’s request to the Centre for granting it the status of minority was turned down in May 2014. The Centre had also replied in negative in response to the Maharashtra government’s query over recognising the Lingayat community as a separate religion.
Ahead of the assembly elections in 2014, the then Prithviraj Chavan government included 21 sub-castes of the Lingayat community into Other Backward Castes (which have 27% reservation) and Special Backward Classes (which have 2% reservation) in August 2014. The inclusion was based on the recommendation of the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward classes. Besides the inclusion, the Chavan government also recommended minority status for the community and sent the resolution to the Centre for the nod. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in its response to the Maharashtra government recommendation, informed the latter that the demand could not be accepted.
State minorities minister Vinod Tawde, while replying to a question in the legislative council on March 9, reiterated the situation, saying the proposal has been rejected by the Centre. “In response to the state government’s proposal, the Centre in its letter dated May, 2014 had informed us that Lingayat cannot be a separate religion and is part of the Hindu religion. The registrar general of the MHA has also informed us that the 2011 Census did not conduct any separate count of the community and hence awarding status of a separate religion was not possible,” the reply said.
Manohar Dhonde, founder-president of Shiva Sangathana, a Lingayat community group, said: “We succeeded in getting the reservation in 2014. The community in Maharashtra is divided over the demand (for separate religion) and that is the reason our march in Yavatmal in January this year failed.”
Another community leader from Solapur, Dharmaraj Kadadi said: “We have been pushing for our demand for years. The community took out seven to eight protest marches in the past six months. The decision in Karnataka may help in gathering further momentum for our movement.”
Prominent politicians coming from the Lingayat community include former Union home minister Shivraj Patil, former ministers Dilip Sopal, Vinay Kore and late Ratnappa Kumbhar, and Shiv Sena MP from Aurangabad Chandrakant Khaire. Minister of state for public health Vijay Deshmukh is the incumbent representative of the community in the Devendra Fadnavis government. Political leaders are expected to attend the Aurangabad rally in large numbers.