In the first public admission by a senior Congress leader, Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar admitted that the Congress should not have interfered in the Lingayat issue in the run-up to the state Assembly Elections this year.
Speaking at the Dasara Sammelan of the Rambhapuri Seer Veera Someshwara Shivacharya Swami in Gadag, Shivakumar said, "Our party has made a big mistake in this state. I don't deny it. I always believed, no government should interfere in matters of religion and caste. It was a crime made by our government. Many ministers, leaders spoke about the issue but the verdict of the people in the election is proof that governments should not interfere in these matters. If our government has made a mistake, we ask you for forgiveness".
Veera Someshwara had earlier staunchly opposed the decision to accord minority religion status to the Lingayat community and is an influential Lingayat seer in Gadag, an area with a significant Lingayat population in the northern part of Karnataka.
Shivakumar's admission comes five months after the State Assembly elections. In the lead up to the elections, the Congress government under CM Siddaramaiah had appointed an expert committee to study proposals by Lingayat and Veerashaiva groups who were eager to dissociate themselves from Hinduism and become a minority religion.
Based on the recommendation of the expert committee, the then Congress government on March 19, accorded minority religion status to Lingayats.
The run up to the Assembly Elections in May saw several Congress leaders bring up the issue of recommending Lingayats as a separate religion. Even Congress President Rahul Gandhi turned to Basavanna, the 12th century philosopher who founded Lingayatism, to woo voters.
However, the party's ploy backfired in the elections. In the north-western region of Karnataka, which has a limited JD(S) presence, the politicking over the Lingayat issue was seen as the determining factor which helped BJP gain a major chunk of seats.
Three senior Congress ministers who were part of the Lingayat movement for separate religion lost in their constituencies while CM Siddaramaiah managed to scrape through with a win in Badami by 1,696 votes. Siddaramaiah lost to JD(S) candidate GT Deve Gowda in the other seat he contested from in Chamundeshwari in Mysuru district which has a significant number of Lingayat population. Congress' move was seen as a ploy to divide the Hindu religion.
Congress leaders have maintained silence over the issue ever since the elections. Rahul Gandhi, who addressed a gathering in Bidar, one of the centres of the Lingayat agitation, after the elections, did not mention Basavanna in his speech. Now, Shivakumar's admission appears to be the start of a course correction measure for the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.