In a key political development ahead of the 2018 state assembly polls in Karnataka, the Congress-led state government on Monday sought the Central government's nod for giving Lingayats a separate religion status.
Putting the ball in the Centre’s court, the Karnataka Cabinet on Monday decided to go ahead with the recommendations made by the Justice Nagamohan Das committee.
In a press conference later in the day, Minister MB Patil confirmed that the separate religion tag has been sought for both Lingayats and Lingayat-Veerashaivas (Veerashaivas who follow Basavanna) as recommended by the expert committee .
The state government-appointed Nagamohan Das committee, which was formed in December 2017 to decide on the matter, had suggested that Lingayats be identified as a separate religion.
However, the Karnataka cabinet is a divided house on the issue. Monday’s decision was taken after a March 8 meeting discussing the issue was deferred following a heated disagreement between Lingayat and Veerashaiva ministers in the cabinet.
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.
Lingayats, a distinct Shaivate religious tradition, are followers of the 12th century poet-philosopher-social reformer Basaveshwara who rebelled against established Hindu tradition by defying the caste system and vedic rituals.
In their bid for a separate religion status, the Lingayats wanted to dissociate themselves from Veerashaaivas, also a Shaivate religious tradition, whose followers adhere to the vedas.
Former IAS officer SM Jamdaar, who is spearheading the Lingayat movement for a separate religion tag challenged the Veerashaiva faction to produce historical documents. “We have been asking for the Veerashaiva faction to produce historical documents to back their claims but neither did they do it when we were discussing a joint proposal, nor are they doing it now” he claimed.
The movement for a separate religion tag, which was started as far back as 1942, was resurrected in 2017 by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s promise to look into the demand for a separate religion status for Lingayats and Veerashaivas.
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.
In January 2018, 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.
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 Karnataka government on the formation of the panel and its report and said that further steps will be subject to the court’s final decision.