The Karnataka cabinet meeting that was expected to take a decision on giving a ‘religious minority’ tag to the Lingayat community was deferred yet again on Wednesday. The move to defer the decision on the contentious Lingayat issue comes even as two ministers in the Siddaramaiah-led government allegedly threatened to quit. With the cabinet split over the issue, the question is will the ruling Congress, in fact, recommend the religious minority tag to the Lingayat community ahead of the Assembly Elections?
While the Karnataka government claimed that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was ‘indisposed’, sources have, however, told TNM that Horticulture Minister SS Mallikarjun and Municipal Administration Minister Eshwar Khandre threatened to quit if a decision was taken on the Lingayat issue.
The cabinet meeting has now been postponed to March 19, even as Siddaramaiah continues efforts to break the ice between opposing Veerashaiva and Lingayat factions both within his cabinet and outside.
On March 8, Water Resources Minister MB Patil and Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddi – both Lingayats - had argued in favour of going ahead with the Justice Nagamohan Das Committee report, which recommends the ‘religious minority’ tag for Lingayats.
However, they were strongly opposed by Municipal Administration Minister Eshwar Khandre and Horticulture Minister SS Mallikarjun.
SS Mallikarjun is the son of All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha President Shamanur Shivashankarappa while Khandre has previously said that Veerashaivas and Lingayats should not be divided.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah intervened as the arguments escalated and decided to defer the issue to a late date.
Former IAS officer SM Jamdaar, who is spearheading the Lingayat movement for separate religion tag challenged the Veerashaiva faction to produce historical documents. “It is nothing unexpected and nothing new. We have been asking for the Veerashaiva faction to produce historical documents to back their claims but neither did they do it when we were discussing a joint proposal, nor are they doing it now” he claimed.
In December 2017, a seven-member expert committee was formed to study five separate demands, three of which were for a separate minority religion status for Lingayats. One representation stated that the Lingayat community members are Hindus and another demanding minority religion tag for the Veerashaiva-Lingayat sect.
The committee recommended ‘religious minority tag’ for Lingayats. It concluded that there is enough evidence to differentiate Lingayat religion from Hindu religion and also added that Veerashaivas - another sect looking to get religious minority status, too can be part of the larger umbrella of ‘Lingayat religion’, as per a report by The Hindu.
While a decision from the government is expected on March 19, a court case related to the issue in the Karnataka High Court is still being heard. The court had earlier put a rider on the process initiated by the State Minorities Committee on the formation of the panel and its report and said that further steps will be subject to the court’s final decision.